Ethnic summer camps and homeland tours

Taiwan Love Boat participants in 1993. Photo: Beao (Wikipedia/Creative Commons).

Taiwan Love Boat participants in 1993. Photo: Beao (Wikipedia/Creative Commons).

Lately, my academic work has got me thinking about ethnic summer camps and homeland trips for youth. My parents couldn’t afford summer camps or trips abroad, so I never went to any of these things, but from what I’ve heard, spending the summer with co-ethnic peers can be a life changing experience. I’ve read a bit about “Love Boat” trip to Taiwan, “In Search of Roots” visits to China, and Birthright tours of Israel, but I’m sure similar programs exist in other communities as well. I just spoke with a director of an Iranian diaspora youth camp who said that many attendees go back home wanting to improve their Persian language skills and get to know their culture better.

Anyone out there went to an ethnic summer camp or homeland tour? What was your experience like? Would you send your children to something similar? Let us know in the comments!

  1. D L

    I went to Taiwan “Love Boat” post-freshmen year of college, and it was indeed a life-changing and amazing experience! A reminder that “Love Boat” does not involve boats at all and actually takes place over a 6-week period in dorms and campuses–roughly 4 weeks of cultural and language classes and then a 9-day tour around Taiwan (this setup has changed over the years though).

    For 18- to early 20-somethings, this program is usually either the first time one has been to Taiwan or the first time there w/o parents. Hence, the average Love Boater receives a crash course in both meeting Asian peers from around the world (France, South America, US East Coast, US West Coast – yes, there are differences ;) and discovering an unfamiliar country firsthand w/o much adult supervision.

    There is an element of MTV Spring Break excess or the feel of a really long college ice-breaker/orientation (the fun period before any real class/work started), but that’s probably also why Love Boaters develop such strong relationships and lasting memories. Everyone’s young, in an unfamiliar country w/o parental supervision for the first time ever, no responsibilities/no school–the world is wide open and your oyster. All your time is focused on interacting with several hundred other peers, having fun and taking lots of pictures.

    This program (probably similarly to other countries’ programs) goes out of its way to make everyone have fun, learn culture and participate in cultural activities at a _breakneck pace_. Seriously. A running Love Boat joke was that everyone got sick (from the same cough) because of the close quarters and self-enforced jam-packed schedule: Classes and cultural activities from 8 am to 5 pm, then dinner and nightmarket/clubbing at night. Then talking/hanging out with your friends until morning.

    It’s worth noting that many of these ethnic programs are heavily subsidized by the government (to the point of almost gratis), which leads to an interesting diversity among attendees (ie. it’s not like all parents had to shell out thousands of $ for horse/soccer/math camp).

    Hence, this is (or was? I’m not sure Love Boat exists anymore) an unparalleled and affordable opportunity for college students to explore a home country for _several weeks_.

    Sure, most everyone wants to party, but the beauty of significant leisure time spent in a country (and any adult who has truly traveled understands this) means that you absorb the culture and people without even trying and in ways you don’t even realize until much later. There is some beauty to your and your equally clueless friends bumbling upon the most delicious hole-in-the-wall shaved ice/sweet tofu/fried taro ice-cream stand because you were hungry/hot/tired–and not because a relative told you where to go. That’s why now, more than 10 years later–in addition to ‘epic’ stories of breaking curfew and clubbing adventures–Love Boat friends and I still talk about Taiwanese food, nightmarket, all-night karaoke, glamor shots, hiking Yangmingshan/thinking the bus would fall into Taroko Gorge and many more stories.

    I think for many young people, this program gives you “your own Taiwan,” something separate from your parents’ Taiwan and something not possible through textbook, tour guide or relative’s story. Being part of 2nd gen means you don’t grow up with your own memories of a home country, so in this way, the program gives you the next best thing. And I will appreciate that always.

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