[Letters] Dubious summer camps abroad spell out trouble for parents

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[Letters] Dubious summer camps abroad spell out trouble for parents

As summer arrives, many Korean families once again begin to devote much of their financial resources to their kids’ summer education plans.

As the enthusiasm for English education and top American universities continue to rise in Korea, there has been a corresponding increase in enrolments for many summer English immersion camps held abroad for Korean students.

Launched by Korea-based educational companies, such camps are generally advertised to be held on the campus of top universities, such as Harvard or Yale, or top boarding high schools such as Choate and Exeter.

The programs’ promises to have their young clients interact directly with top American students to improve English skills have become major draws for parents who are dissatisfied with the summer English “cram programs” offered by hagwon in Korea.

However, by operating programs in foreign countries, these profit-seeking Korean companies are often exploiting a legal grey-zone without informing the parents of the associated risks.

My personal experience illustrates the danger of the parents to easily place their trust with any summer programs abroad.

Recommended by a friend, I began working with a small Korean company this past year to establish a spring break and summer break program around Yale University.

But as soon as the project began I realized the abnormality associated with the company.

All transactions are done in cash and with the personal bank account of the company president, while no paperwork were ever completed with the students or the teachers.

Even as the president insisted that he is a naturalized U.S. citizen, his presence around the campus almost immediately attracted the attention of the Yale administration as “conducting illegal business activity.”

As soon as the local police were notified of the situation, the company president disappeared from his hotel overnight, leaving a group of teachers, students and the landlords for his “classrooms” completely without any clue as to what had just happened.

The biggest losers in all of this, without a doubt, were the parents, who funneled thousands of dollars to the company president’s bank account without any guarantee of refund in case of the program’s cancellation.

In this case, it was fortunate that the students were still in Korea when the company president made his overnight escape from Yale, otherwise the negative consequences would have been much greater.

Of course, the parents are to blame for not checking the companies’ credentials before enrolling their children in their dubious programs, but the Korean authorities should equally be blamed for not using greater measures to regulate the burgeoning market for education programs abroad.

The presence of companies such as the one I worked for can only serve to damage the reputation of all Korean educational companies, including those properly registered to operate abroad.

Xiaochen Su,

Yale University Class of 2010, San Diego, Calif.
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