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Mandarin summer camps in China

By: Michelle Wonderland

Most expat families return home during their summer holidays. Us? We gambled on the opportunity to spend an extended break in Shanghai, the largest city in China, to fully immerse ourselves in Chinese culture and Mandarin language study. After some searching, we found an amazing Chinese-immersion program for kids and adults at That’s Mandarin, a Shanghai language school that specialises in fun and creative ways to learn Chinese in China through summer camp programs. Here’s how we spent our vacation.

I know what you’re thinking – why give up annual home leave in exchange for a Chinese-immersion summer camp in China?

Quite simply, we wanted to live the language. Although Hong Kong has many impressive Mandarin tuition centers, these Chinese lessons don’t offer the completely Chinese immersion experience that can only be found by living in China for an extended period of time. Our own commitment to our daughter’s Chinese language learning gave us the inspiration to take a leap of faith and seek out summer camps that specialise in teaching Mandarin to children by boosting their confidence in speaking Mandarin while offering a fun, cultural component that ties the entire experience together.

Check out the images above from our summer in Shanghai at That’s Mandarin, a summer camp to learn Chinese in China

Why did we choose That’s Mandarin over other Chinese immersion summer camps in Shanghai?

There are a lot of options for Mandarin summer camp in China. But what set That’s Mandarin apart from the others was their personal approach to our particular needs. Before our arrival, we connected through Skype, email and social media to become more familiar with their program, from learning methodology to special field trips for parents. We were a bit nervous about making such a commitment, yet the team at That’s Mandarin made the entire process easy for us.  What’s more is that they offer family programs for your entire brood, so that learning Chinese is accessible to everyone. When we chatted with representatives for other camps in Shanghai, they either weren’t very helpful, or they were too aggressive and salesy for us to feel comfortable spending our summer with them.

{ Check out our handy expat survival guide to living in Shanghai for tips on how to survive China’s largest city }

Why learn Chinese in Shanghai?

Shanghai is arguably the most cosmopolitan city in the PRC. With leafy boulevards, high street shopping, amazing restaurants, efficient public transport, cute cafes and more, Shanghai is a bourgeoning cultural scene where East meets West in a city with less air pollution than other Tier 1 China cities. Shanghai is also relatively easy to manage with kids in tow, and the cultural benefits of living in such a dynamic city are enough to make you the envy of your family when they receive your updates from abroad.

What kinds of students attend That’s Mandarin Chinese-immersion summer camps?

Open to children aged 7 to 17, That’s Mandarin sees not only local campers from Shanghai, but campers as far reaching as Russia, Spain, Singapore, the US and other global countries, providing a diversity among the group so that campers can get the most out of their summer immersion program. Summer Camp in China offers four camp options for children: Morning Camp (9am to noon, Monday through Friday), Day Camp (9am to 3pm – to 5pm on days with class trips), Full Camp (for kids aged 12 to 17), and Homestay Camp (for kids aged 12 to 17). Families can opt for the Family Camp program.

How are days at That’s Mandarin Summer Camp in China structured?

With a rolling enrollment period beginning in June, students arrive for two- to four-week camp periods until August. As I had to work during our time in Shanghai, we opted for the Day Camp, a 9am to 3pm/5pm camp on weekdays (with weekend excursions optional). A day in summer Day Camp usually consists of morning lessons, where campers are grouped according to ability (from beginners to fluent learners) in speaking, reading and writing.  A cartoon class makes learned lessons fun, as do the larger group topic classes, and cultural activities. The afternoons consist of cultural activities, like Chinese calligraphy and making dumplings.

Snacks and lunchtime breaks are also a part of the lessons – on some days the campers have traditional Chinese meals, and on others, they enjoy Western meals.

Twice weekly, the campers are treated to outside excursions to cultural landmarks and sightseeing spots so that they can acquire hands-on confidence and learning in China. My daughter’s favorite memories were haggling with hawkers – she developed such a strong confidence that has carried through to her Chinese lessons back home. Upon returning, her Mandarin teachers, tutors and enrichment class lao shi have all commented on how she has grown significantly in confidence and fluency due to her summer camp in Shanghai experience.

Can parents feel comfortable when their children attend That’s Mandarin summer camps?

YES! I have to admit, I had mixed feelings about being in a foreign country with a child who has only known the safety of Hong Kong and Singapore, yet the staff at That’s Mandarin were always available by phone and instant messenger any time of the day or night to help quell my concerns. On field trips and excursions, the youngest campers are paired with staff, and every camper is paired with a buddy. The team communicates frequently with parents to include them on progress and any issues that the camper may have.

That’s Mandarin operates Summer Camp in China Mandarin immersion programs in Shanghai and Beijing. Other programs include one-on-one lessons, HSK preparation courses, and they even host wine and cultural evenings for adults.

Michelle Wonderland is the Regional Online Editor for Expat Living Singapore, EX Magazine, Expat Living Hong Kong and LIV. A self-proclaimed Tiger Mom, Michelle spent last summer in Shanghai, China so that her six-year-old daughter was empowered to speak Chinese all summer at a Mandarin language immersion camp, and apply those skills to get them the best deals in the markets. Follow Michelle’s adventures on Instagram and Twitter under the handle #thingstodoinsg and @thingstodoinsg

The opinions for this piece solely originate from the author; the article has not been sponsored or paid for in any way.