Overseas summer camps face pandemic disruption

By Long Nguyen   April 3, 2020 | 06:13 pm PT
With summer approaching, travel restrictions and health concerns caused by Covid-19 are preventing students from accessing exchange programs.

Three months ago, Minh Anh, a 15-year-old student in Hanoi, was excited about her summer tour to Australia with some classmates. Nguyen Thu Thuy, her mother, had made arrangements with an agency and paid a deposit. Last year, Minh Anh had visited America with the help of their services.

However, the plan changed last month, with the Covid-19 pandemic hitting numerous countries.

"I talked with other parents and we all concurred to halt the summer study tour," Thuy explained.

A Vietnamese student learns at home after her school has been closed due to the pandemic. Photo by Shuttlestock/Le Manh Thang.

A Vietnamese student learns at home after her school has been closed due to the pandemic. Photo by Shuttlestock/Le Manh Thang.

In the last few years, summer study tours have become more popular among nouveau riche Vietnamese. Typically, parents pay thousands of dollars to send their minors abroad for 2-4 weeks of summer holidays with specific studying programs to familiarize them with new environments before deciding to enroll them in long-term future study.

This fueling demand creates a vibrant market for summer exchange courses as dozens of companies in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City coordinate with international universities to take youngsters abroad each summer.

With the Covid-19 pandemic having affected 205 countries and territories, many parents are careful when it comes to sending their kids away for weeks.

Nguyen Thanh Lan, a housewife in Hanoi’s Long Bien District, is one one them. She is normally busy preparing travel documents for her son’s summer study tour this time of year. The boy, Tung Quan, 13, has been to Singapore and Australia before and plans to join a program in Malaysia this summer.

"It is a risky move to travel any where in the next few months, so I let him stay home," Lan commented.

Unsure when the summer holiday will commence as a myriad of schools have been closed for almost two months to contain the pandemic, parents have no idea when they could send their minors to class again and start their summer tours.

"I am not even sure whether kids will have one month for summer holiday if they cannot return to school in May. Summer study tours are unclear until we have a timetable for this school year," said Tran Ngoc Tan, planning to send his 10-year-old son on a study trip to New Zealand.

"I will also go since we have some relatives living in the country, but the plan wait," Tan added.

Many universities have also canceled summer exchange programs for high schoolers.

"A host of our partnered universities and schools in the U.K. and U.S. have decided to cancel their campus-based programs, so we have to change our plans," said Tran Thi Duong, employed at an educational agency in Saigon’s District 1. Last year, she took 45 students to Singapore.

Institutions like UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, University of Colorado Boulder in the U.S., and King’s College in the U.K. have halted their summer camps with the respective countries crippled by Covid-19.

As more and more countries are closing their border or tighten their visa policies, parents are more careful when sending their children abroad this summer.

According to Thuy, right after Australia’s Covid-19 travel ban came into force, she called the agency in Hanoi and asked to have her deposit money returned.

"I gave up hoping when they closed the border. Summer is only two months away and things cannot change that quickly," she said.

Play it by ear

Study tour agencies witness a decrease in the number of customers lately.

In Hanoi, Trinh Thanh Nam, academic manager of an English Center in Ba Dinh District, said the number of registered students for summer trips this year at his center had decreased by up to 80 percent.

"We only have five participants so far," Nam said, adding last July he had arranged a study tour to San Francisco for over 30 schoolers.

According to Nguyen Van Khanh, a university lecturer coordinating with several English centers and universities to organize summer study tours, all of his clients are hesitant to pay for this kind of trip this year.

"None have decided to send their kids away this summer. If the pandemic cannot be contained by end May, we will drop all of our plans," said Khanh, who managed three trips for around 70 schoolers last year.

In spite of the situation, many tour organizers are hoping for a better outlook.

"Sooner or later, kids will have their summer holiday. We will see how it goes. If the pandemic comes under control, tours will recommence," Nam maintained.

Ho Chi Minh City-based Set Education has postponed all tours from June to August. Many other firms still advertise summer study tours starting in two months as several bookings had been made before the pandemic, though promising clients refunds "in case of unplanned for events."

"Everything regarding summer tours is uncertain, so we will play it by ear," said Khanh, who also plans to send his daughter on a 4-week program to Singapore in July.

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