Saturday, November 03, 2018

Chinese Summer Camp Review (2018)

In the summer of 2018, our son returned to National Taiwan Normal University to attend the NTNU Mandarin Training Center summer program for children and teens. We liked the Chinese summer camp in Taiwan experience the first time around when both of our kids attended.

This time, we wanted to help our son's Mandarin improve while having a special cultural experience in Taiwan. This is a review of his 2018 Chinese Summer Camp experience at NTNU. I will also talk a little about other things to do in Taipei and Taiwan while you are on the island, and how we handled living arrangements via AirBnB.

The 2018 Chinese summer camp experience

My son was in the "Little 1" group four years previously; this time he was in the "Big 3" group as his Chinese had improved in the interim, thanks to classes in his American middle school.

One issue I noticed this time is the program has many students can actually speak Mandarin quite well (thanks to exposure at home) but cannot write. As a result, at the "big" levels for older kids, many students are bunched up at the big 2 and big 3 level, but they don't have enough kids to attend the higher level classes (4 and 5). As a result, they encourage kids from the middle levels to attend the higher-level classes.

On the one hand, this really challenges the kids to improve rapidly on their spoken and written Chinese. On the other hand, it may be too much for some. My son was placed in the level 4 class, but it was just too hard -- his written Chinese was better than many, but his spoken Mandarin was not as good and he couldn't understand the level 4 vocabulary. The program is very good about moving kids up or down in the first week, so he dropped down to level 3 which was just right.

My advice to anyone attending the Chinese summer camp program in 2019 or beyond is to really pay attention to what the kids are saying (too easy, too hard) in the first few days. Also ask for feedback from the teachers and assistants. If it doesn't seem like a good fit, let the teachers know in the first week and they can reassign your child.

Not many things changed in terms of the structure or approach to education. Mandarin is spoken almost all of the time at the middle and higher levels. The quality of the instruction was identical, and a very high level. But some of the learning materials did change -- I actually preferred the older Chinese textbooks for the beginner levels as the printing was better quality and they had side-by-side simplified and traditional versions of each lesson. My son was able to learn a lot regardless -- in fact his aunt and uncle were honestly quite impressed at the improvement over one month.

Even better: The 2018 summer experience at NTNU in Taiwan supercharged his Chinese writing and speaking ability for his middle school Chinese class in the Boston area. It made a huge difference. He was average in his 7th grade Chinese class at school before he went to Taiwan, when he came back in the fall for 8th grade he was advanced. He surged ahead and qualified for honors-level Chinese for 9th grade, when he starts high school. I asked him how/why he thinks he was able to do so well in 8th grade Chinese, and his answer was "Chinese summer camp."

Taiwan summer camp: side trips

One other thing about this trip that is worth mentioning: I made a point of doing a lot of extra stuff with him over the four-week period. Almost every night we went somewhere to eat, and two or three nights per week we did special excursions to night markets or other attractions. He was older, and our apartment (an Airbnb about 15 minutes' walk from National Taiwan Normal University) was far more convenient for getting on the MRT subway system and getting to the Taipei Main Train Station. Sometimes we went with relatives, but most of the time we were on our own using public transport or sometimes a rented car. Our 2018 excursions included:
For the last side trip, I pulled him out of the summer camp on a Friday (it was field trip that day, not classes) and took a train to Hualian, where I rented a car from Avis and did all of the driving. It was a lot of driving that weekend, but it was utterly spectacular mountain and country scenery and an amazing experience for us both. You can also take tour busses to Taroko directly from Hualian, too. It's amazing and worth a side trip!

There are many more opportunities for trips near Taipei or further afield: Shopping, Taipei 101, fishing in cement pools, travel to the beach, travel to other cities and towns ... there are too many things to list! 

During the day while he was in camp, I usually worked at a coworking center in Taipei (I have my own publishing and consulting business) but I also made a point to do a hike in the nearby hills on my own or with friends once per week. How many other chances will I get in my life to do something like this?

A few photos from our summer in Taiwan are below:

Jilong night market

Northern style Chinese restaurant in Taipei

Our Airbnb

Taiwan professional baseball game in Taoyuan

Doing homework on the balcony of our Airbnb

Taroko gorge

Taroko gorge

Tea harvest, Taidong county

Chinese summer camp homework project

Cliffside temple, Xindian, New Taipei City

Hiking markers near Maokong station, Taipei

Puppet show on the last day of the Chinese summer program

Tang Dynasty sculpture at National Palace Museum

Notes: I was not paid money to write this post, and we don't have any affiliation with NTNU other than sending our kids to camp there in the summer of 2014 and again in 2018. I just wanted to share my experience, after finding it so difficult to locate real reviews about the program!

However, since posting this review, I have added affiliate links for Amazon and Airbnb on this page. I get a small commission or travel credit if you click on them and spend money on those sites. If you don't want to use the links, here are the plain old links: Amazon/Airbnb. I also use advertising on the page, which you can turn off by switching to reader view in Firefox or Safari, or by using an ad blocker. 

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