Summer camp is an American institution, giving kids the chance to flourish, learn new skills and develop independence away from their parents (not to mention giving parents a break from their kids…) But how much more of an adventure it is when you have to cross an ocean to get there, and stay thousands of miles from home!
To find out what that experience is like, we talk to Trey Lei Warner (age 9), and his dad AJ Warner, an educational consultant. Trey attends Daystar Academy, and went to camp with big brother Peyton Xiang Warner, who’s a student at the International School of Beijing (ISB).
“My brother and I went to summer camp last summer,” Trey tells us, “at Independent Lake Camp in Pennsylvania. We flew into New York first and then drove with my parents to the camp.”
Was this just Mom and Dad’s idea, we wonder? Or did the kids have any input into the decision?
“My dad showed me the video about the camp,” Trey says, “and I liked very much what I saw. My brother also became very enthusiastic about going. So, we both made the decision that our parents should send us to Independent Lake Camp over other summer camps.”
We ask Dad whether there were any difficulties over visas, but as US citizens they had no problems. “The camp is very international,” Warner says, “with about 40 percent of campers from other countries, including France, Brazil, the UK, Germany, South Korea and New Zealand. The camp provides international campers with all the necessary invitations for visa to attend, so there will not be any issues for Chinese kids to attend this coming summer.”
Trey tells us more about his journey. “My dad drove my brother and me to the camp. We left New York City and drove through rolling green hills in Pennsylvania called the Pocono Mountains. However, when the camp ended I took a bus by myself back to New York City. My parents were there waiting for me.”
Life at Camp Abroad
It’s already becoming apparent that that the experience gave a huge boost to Trey’s confidence and independence. We ask him how he felt when he arrived.
“I felt excited! My parents dropped me off at the camp dorm, and I met my camp counselor. There were other kids my age, and we all became friends. We left the dorm and went around the camp area together exploring and seeing our new home.”
Trey describes a typical day in camp for us.
“Every day was busy with activities, but lots of fun. I took different classes that I chose, so I would go to my magic and illusion classes and learn new tricks. I took juggling the last two weeks. We prepared for performances that we shared with the whole camp and parents. At night, there was always something fun at the camp. At night in bed, I talked with my friends with flashlights until our counselor told us to go to sleep.”
We ask him what the best thing about camp was.
“I thought the best thing was the classes I took. I learned to perform illusion tricks and then perform in front of an audience. This experience I never had in Beijing, so it was a little scary at first, but then I found out how fun it was to perform. The teachers were so fun and encouraging. Learning was the best thing about the camp.”
And the worst?
“I did not like getting out of shower in the morning and walking back to my bed. It was cold in the morning!”
Unfamiliar food is often an issue when kids are away from home, but this wasn’t an issue for Trey.
“The food was not bad, but it was not as good as what my Ayi cooks. However, when the food that day wasn’t good, they always had hamburgers and pizza at the other cafeteria that was pretty good.”
Even so he still missed a taste of home, he tells us.
“There was no Chinese food served at the camp, so when I got to New York that was the first food I ate.”
We ask him whether the experience was different for him in any way because he lives in Beijing.
“It was like my school in Beijing, but lots more fun,” Trey answers. “Every day I was taking classes I liked and being with the new friends I made at camp. We were with larger kids like 16 years old, which was different from back in Beijing. All day was fun, which was much better than Beijing!”
Trey is enthusiastic about all the new things he learned.
“I learned how to perform illusion tricks. I also learned juggling. I even learned how to build a rocket. I learned lots of other things, but I don’t want to tell you. There were so many things I still want to learn at the camp like circus performance, which I will take this summer.”
We ask him how he felt when it was time to come home.
“I wasn’t ready to go back,” Trey says. “I still wanted to stay at the camp for another two weeks. The time went by too fast. Always want it longer, don’t you know.”
“Trey thoroughly enjoyed the camp,” Dad adds. “He forgot to call or write us. According to his counselors, Trey became one of the most active boys in his dorm and had an amazing time at the camp. For the next two months after the camp, Trey practiced juggling every night and even taught himself new tricks.”
We ask Trey how the experience has changed him.
“I don’t know,” he says. “I enjoy going up in my class and giving presentations more than I did last year. I spoke in front of a huge audience at my school and I wasn’t scared even a little.”
Dad has certainly noticed a difference.
“We weren’t sure how we would handle the camp, but the experience helped him develop new interests and more confidence in himself,” Warner says. “He made many new friends, with kids his age and his counselors. When I visited him halfway through the camp, I knew he would develop into a different kid by the end of the camp. When we came back to China, he wanted to get involved in more activities at school and on the weekends. Today, he is the youngest member of his school’s robotics team.”
More Than Just Summer Fun
Trey is already planning what he’ll do when he goes back, and this summer he hopes to stay longer than four weeks. In fact, they’re so keen, that they’re marketing the camp to other Beijing youngsters.
“I was thinking about different ways to give my two sons an opportunity to get involved in helping create a business,” Warner tells us. “While talking with the owner of Independent Lake Camp, he mentioned his hope to involve more Chinese kids in the camp. That is when I came up with the idea of promoting the summer camp and having my two sons contribute their thoughts to brainstorm to build the business. At first, they didn’t understand the purpose of promoting their summer camp, but as we discussed how to market the opportunity, they began to get excited about being part of the new business.”
“I think the camp was a great camp because the classes were fun and the teachers were great,” Trey says. “However, there weren’t many Chinese kids at the camp. I want more Chinese kids to enjoy the camp like I did, so I want to start the business to promote the summer camp.”
Peyton takes up the story.
“When my dad first told me about the idea of promoting the summer camp, I was a little bit confused, but when my dad explained to me a little bit more, I thought the idea was great.”
“We decided to market the camp at the Beijing International School Expo,” Trey continues. “I talked about my experiences at Independent Lake Camp with parents to persuade them to send their child to my camp.”
“I passed out fliers to Chinese parents and talked with them,” Peyton says. “Hopefully, our work and talks will convince them why I think Independent Lake Camp is so special and a great summer camp. I met other students from France, Germany, Brazil, and South Korea at the camp, but no Chinese. I was the only Chinese so I will change that for this summer.”
“My sons are also writing articles to share on WeChat,” Warner adds, “and plan to hold a webinar to share their experience with parents as well as answer questions. When kids want to ask questions, my sons will talk via WeChat with interested kids and maybe even hold an orientation, so that everyone participating in the camp is excited about their upcoming summer experience.”
Warner hopes that the project will also be a learning experience for his kids.
“I purposely involved my sons in all aspect of the business because I started it for them to gain hands-on experience starting and operating a small business. They are actively involved in most decisions, although I make the final determination. In the end, I want them to feel the success of getting more Chinese to attend the camp directly from their efforts. For me, this experience opened a new way for me to connect with my own kids, and I am looking forward to seeing how everything goes with the business we are creating to promote Independent Lake Camp.”
We ask him how the boys are finding life as entrepreneurs.
“In the beginning, they were confused, but over time and more discussions about what we are going to accomplish, they have become interested. The fact that any money earned from the business will be shared helped motivate them. They are interested in using the profit they receive to purchase computers for new business that they intend to establish. My older son impressed me when he told me of his desire to learn how to create online servers for Minecraft to sell monthly memberships. My younger son said he intends to use the profit also to buy a computer so that he can create a new computer operating system. Overall, both sons are excited about the business and what it will help them to accomplish later.
“I initiated the idea because I wanted them to gain a better understanding about what their mother and I do every day as entrepreneurs in Beijing,” Warner continues. “I hope they appreciate the hard work required to be a successful entrepreneur as well as the rewarding side. I also want them to consider establishing their own businesses in the future, so gaining hands-on experience will help them know if this is a good career path for their futures. Finally, I wanted them to work together on a common goal as team members. Making sure that they have a good relationship is important to me, so this business ‘partnership’ gives them a new way to connect with each other.”
I ask the boys what they’re going to do with their share of the profits.
“I will use the money I earn to buy my own computer,” Trey says. “I want a computer so I can increase my skills on programming in C/C++ and Java.”
Peyton already has his next business venture in mind.
“I’m planning to use the income I make to buy a new computer so that I could design custom servers in Minecraft and charge membership fees,” he says.
International summer camp certainly seems to have made a major impact on the Warner boys. If you’re interested in exploring the idea with your own family, check out our listings in the magazine (it appears right after this piece on p. 53-56).
All photos courtesy of Dave’s Studio
This article originally appeared on p 48-52 of beijingkids March Issue. Download a copy here.