Siobhan Brown was lucky enough to meet the Mike and Kay from Greenwoods this week, and here we share their story of entrepreneurship and creating an all-American summer camp in Shanghai…
“It was scary getting on the plane that day”, said Kay. “Three days before, I had landed back in the UK from my fourth summer in the most magical place on Earth – summer camp in Maine. I had sobbed like never before as I drove down the camp road, away from the place that I loved. It was the place that I felt had made me who I was, that had made me brave enough to be getting on the plane that day. I was flying alone to Beijing. It would be my first time in Asia, the first time that I would rent an apartment or sign up for internet by myself and the time I would finally begin my career as a teacher. I was scared but determined to get on the plane that day.
I looked back once to see my Mum and sister waving, fearing that I wouldn’t come back. “Don’t be ridiculous,” I laughed at them, “I’m only going for a year”. But, guess what? The year came and went and I decided to stay. Following the fun of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, it was hard to resist a stay in Beijing. Although I didn’t know it yet, my husband was also deciding to stay in Beijing that summer. Mike Lewis was on a foreign exchange, promoting VISA during the Olympics and decided to stay on and study in Beijing.
Study he did, graduating from UIBE with his MBA in 2010. That year we fell in love, we found out we would be parents and he founded his company, Stateside Adventures.
“I’m only going for a year” had become three. Quitting the business that he had just started was not an option for Mike and we pushed on, working harder and harder as our family grew to three. We kept ourselves motivated by recounting tales of those gone before us and who had made their own successful businesses. Like, for example, a friend’s father who originally stood on the street every weekend in his hometown, wearing a sandwich board to sell anything and everything, but who now owned a golf course. We thought of man behind the Dyson vacuum cleaner who didn’t make a sale until he was in his 50’s, and we vowed to keep on going.
My education background as a teacher, serving families from all over the globe, gave Mike valuable insight and we collaborated on almost everything. As he continued working weekends planning family retreats, climbing expeditions on the Great Wall, and attending school fairs, or meals with families and their children, he worked every holiday while I worked in between. I would add ideas and suggestions to Stateside Adventures’ Hallowe’en events, communication and especially how to talk to parents.
Our son, Elias, and I watched the company grow from a consultancy and travel exchange company, sending Chinese children away to the top camps in America, to what it is today. Elias got used to accompanying daddy to camp activities around Beijing. However, we wanted a permanent fixed location, an outside space where we could create a camp, not just the office in Beijing, but it was almost impossible to find. Camps need green open space, and a safe, clean water supply. Rules in China about land use for residence made things even more difficult.
2016 was our lucky year, and we were able to sign a lease on a property in Qian Dao Hu, Thousand Islands Lake. The Nong Fu reservoir would be our lake for kayaking, paddle boarding and swimming, giving us the safe, clean water with green open space that we craved. A former golf course and country club became the newest CAMP GREENWOODS. Mike took an ordinary golf fairway and turned it into a world class summer camp, and in a matter of weeks we had 250 children on our camp property. Our staff came from all over the world, including many core staff from Mainland China. They had never seen anything like a traditional American camp, where the director of camp motivated, coached and encouraged people to reach their potential. Our motto is “I’m not afraid to fail”. Mike created Roman wars, an epic battle of goo which the children, not used to being dirty, thought was awful and hilarious all at once, challenging their ideas and perceptions of “fun”.
It gets hot in the summer! But children got used to being outside, to being sweaty and running around and pushing themselves in ways they had never experienced before. Basketball, soccer, gaga, volleyball, high ropes, rock climbing, American football, rugby, capture the flag, archery and scouting, had the campers spending more time outdoors in nature than they thought possible. Arts and crafts, fashion, drama, music, dance, musical theatre, woodshop, talent show, magic, fun science and ping pong give them plenty of time indoors when the heat became too much. All the classes are run in English by foreign staff, and we always observe thirty seconds of silence before each meal to give thanks for the opportunities at camp and ground the children in gratitude.
Mike designed the 5 trees (our core values) of camp as service, patience, respect, friendship and perseverance. Every day at camp we thread these values through our activities, our bunk games and our evening activities, calling out individual campers for their personal efforts in each area. If you ask me how I can work with my husband, it’s because he personifies these values and being around him inspires me and everyone who works with him, to be better and to give more to our children.
We opened Camp Greenwoods Shanghai in 2017, moving to our current and permanent home this May 2018.! It was another rush to get everything open in time for campers arriving in June, but we are lucky to have such an incredible location here in Qingpu. We served hundreds of campers this summer in Shanghai and helped many children work through stresses and difficulties as they navigate through their young life. This summer we also finally managed to get that location in Beijing! Although the Lewis family relocated to Shanghai last summer, our head office remains in Beijing and a full time staff of 40. We secured the former Olympic rowing site in Beijing for CAMP GREENWOODS BEIJING. For the two of us, the full circle moment was not lost.”
To find out more, contact Mike on WeChat by searching for username mikelewis. And remember, Camp is more than trees and grass – it’s a way of life!