Charlotte Fong, 14, International Christian School
Overseas cultural tours have become a trend in recent years. Many parents send their children to faraway countries in the hopes of immersing them in local culture and helping them learn a foreign language. However, these overpriced trips might not be as eye-opening or life-changing as they claim to be.
The main benefit of a cultural tour is to have more opportunities to speak a second language, particularly English, as the participants usually go to English-speaking countries and attend English lessons. The problem is that most Hongkongers who join these tours are ethnic Chinese, so they end up spending most of their free time speaking to each other in Cantonese.
On a cultural tour you often have to follow a strict schedule. This prevents you from experiencing the local lifestyle and gaining a better understanding of a foreign culture. What’s more, you are “pampered” by your guides, which denies you opportunities to become self-reliant. Teenagers should not be spoon-fed. We should have the freedom to explore a place and learn from the experience.
Cultural tours often include many cities and countries; you visit prominent tourist spots and leave in a hurry without really appreciating the local culture and history. If you want to experience the culture beyond that of a tourist, you are better off travelling on your own. Then you can dig deeper into things that interest you.
Overseas tour organisers only want your money. Most of the English courses taught during cultural exchange tours can easily be found in Hong Kong, so there is no reason to spend thousands of dollars more to gain the same experience. Forget about these trips; you can do something much better with your time and money.
Snehaa Senthamilselvan Easwari, 16, Li Po Chun United World College
Summer schools were once known for their extensive promotion of academic success or helping students to catch up with their schoolwork. But this is a heavy burden on students who are supposed to be enjoying a break.
However, in recent years, such schools have evolved to offer enriching programmes that provide an “outside the classroom” experience for participants. These overseas cultural tours help students enhance their knowledge and gain a better understanding of how people in other countries live, and what traditions they value.
It’s important to have experiences that go beyond what you learn in the classroom. You need more than good grades to get into a top university. This is where exchange tours can be very useful. If you have lived overseas or are fluent in a second language, it helps you adapt to different environments, build personal relationships, and overcome challenges – and it also impresses university authorities.
Many tours now offer volunteering opportunities.
This can help you develop more compassion for people from different walks of life. It can also help you reflect on how these issues affect people back home, and inspire you to work towards change.
Also, you can have group discussions during the tour in which everyone can reflect on their experiences. When you go back to school, you can talk about the trip with your teachers and schoolmates.
Obviously, such trips cost a lot of money but they are worth every penny, because you cannot get that experience anywhere else. Just be sure to choose a cultural tour based on the activities offered, rather than purely on the country. This way you will be exposed to a wider learning environment.