After 20 years of running a summer camp business, the last place I probably ever thought of playing capture the flag or roasting marshmallows with campers would be in China. But, life often serves up the unexpected, even if it’s halfway around the world.
Last November, with my wife, Peggy, at my side, I stepped off of a China Air flight and set foot in the Land of the Dragon. We had been invited to visit a prestigious boarding school called The Julong Foreign Language School located in a quaint village north of Xiaman, China. For the past few years, Chinese students with the means have been flocking to attend summer camp programs here in America (from Boston to San Francisco to Kidventure in Texas). They come in search of the chance to further their English, expand their academic opportunity and soak in the ‘western culture’.
From Xiaman, we took a high-speed train north to Quanzhou where the Julong School is located. A very kind driver met us at the station and drove us through a beautifully idyllic landscape, ever-so manicured and kept. As we drove onto the school grounds and up the hill towards the administrative offices, we were surprisingly greeted with a 60 foot tall LED board. On it read, “WELCOME MR. KIDVENTURE TEXAS OF THE USA”. I knew at that point that we were definitely not in Kansas.
Julong is like a small university, complete with attractive dorms, neat classrooms and plentiful athletic fields and basketball courts. Everywhere there are gardens, flowering plants and pathways. School children dress in athletic suits of varying colors and the sound of younger children singing and older children reciting lessons fills the air at all times. Students at Julong attend class and remain at school during the week, returning to their homes on weekends.
The day at Julong was spent in meetings, sharing tea and eating. Meetings in China are rarely about business and much more about getting to know one another and becoming comfortable with those around the table. Beside a charming lake, we were treated to an amazing lunch, complete with traditional Chinese dishes that I could not identify. We were toasted (many times) and shown a hospitality and kindness that was humbling, even for Texas standards.
That day, the idea of bringing Kidventure’s summer camp to China was formulated. Around a traditional tea ceremony with school officials, my wife and my friend, Tommy, drew up a vision for camp in China. That vision was to build a team of American camp counselors, directors and specialists who would travel to Julong and bring Kidventure camp (complete with tie-die shirts, camp songs, mud-wars and s’mores around the campfire). Camp would be ‘delivered’ in English with a focus on transposing strong character skills and a healthy value system. What better atmosphere to accomplish this than camp!?
This coming summer, Kidventure-Julong Camp will take place in the mountains north of Xiaman from June 29-August 3, 2014. A team of 17 will travel from Texas and bring the joy and adventure of Kidventure to children ranging from ages 8-16. We’ll play Ga-Ga, learn countless camp songs and run around at night with glow-in-the-dark painted faces. We will share campfire stories, sack race and build relationships that only camps can foster. For our Chinese families and their campers, I am sure they will want to further their competency in English as many hope that their children will become more comfortable and familiar with Americans and our customs. For me, my hope is that a greater understanding of each other will occur over the course of camp. My desire is that a team of highly energetic and caring Americans will gather with children from a very different place and both will understand that we are not so different. For in the world of camp, the language of fun, acceptance and childhood is universal and the opportunity to bring the world together can happen at a place called Kidventure.