Dozens of Chinese teenagers aboard the Boeing 777 that crashed in San Francisco on Saturday were headed to a summer English program in a religious school in the San Fernando Valley.
Though it seemed unusual to those outside the education field, experts said a growing number of Chinese have been attending similar summer classes, particularly in Southern California.
"The market is huge. There are many, many people in Los Angeles doing this," said Kenny Hsu.
After a long career in banking, he founded EduWin five years ago to bring Chinese teenagers to the Los Angeles area for summer English classes. He's essentially a broker.
He charges $6,000 for a three-week program, which includes classes in a private school, housing and airfare. Most of it goes to cover the costs, but Hsu does take a fee. He said it's less than 10 percent.
For many Chinese parents, these trips are a way to see if their kids would do well in American schools.
Hsu, who is from Taiwan, said that in China, American schools are seen as better than their own, which are seen as relying too much on rote memorization.
"Many parents are thinking of sending their kids to U.S.A. for high school or for college," he said. The summer programs are a way to dip a toe in, and see if the children would succeed.
Hsu himself moved to the U.S. about three decades ago to go to college.
When he founded EduWin in 2008, he placed 30 students in summer language programs. This summer he’s bringing more than 200 students from China.
Hsu happened to be in China last week during the plane crash. He said parents were shaken, but none have cancelled.
"This summer we’re going to have a lot of students coming. And all the parents were worried about the safety of airplane travel," he said.
He assured them that airplane travel is statistically safer than cars or trains. His first group of students from China arrive next week to attend a private school in Torrance.
These programs have been so successful that now California public schools are beginning to tap into the Chinese market. Murrieta Valley Unified School District, south of Riverside, has just launched a program.
"We will be starting the school year with 19 students primarily from Beijing, Shanghai, and the Shanxi province. " said Guy Romero, the assistant superintendent. "Tuition is $10,500."
Chinese parents will likely end up paying around twice that amount once they add in travel, housing, and broker costs.
"What amazed me was how frequent we are criticized by our own constituents and our own legislators and yet we are so valued" by foreigners, Romero said. "They so desperately want to come here and get what we have."