Cultural Exchange for a Better World

Posted: June 04, 2013

Some of my son’s best memories at camp were related to the friends he made from other parts of the world. His appreciation of what makes us different and, more importantly, how we are all the same, was profound. Even today, as a young adult, he draws on those camp experiences to make sense of the world.

Camp has always been a unique developmental environment that weaves global citizenship with other outcomes such as critical thinking skills, leadership, and character development.

And now more than ever, the gifts of culture that our international visitors bring are critical. Not only because the Partnership for 21st Century Skills calls for social and cross-cultural skills as a stepping stone to success. But, importantly, because we must teach our children cultural empathy and understanding — to see themselves in others, recognize the beauty in differences, and unite in the spirit we share across global boundaries.

That is why I am so touched by the words of Tove, a former cultural exchange program participant from Norway who recently advocated with the Senate to keep our nation’s Cultural Exchange Program viable for camps. Currently, Congress is considering legislation that would overhaul our immigration system, including the Cultural Exchange Program that provides international camp counselors and support staff to camps across the country. If provisions currently under consideration are swept up in this reform, the program may be in jeopardy.

If we want a world of peace and understanding, we must let our children experience that world firsthand — at camp. I encourage you to read Tove’s testimonial. ACA will keep you up to date on this important issue. And if you have a cultural exchange story to tell, please share with us in the comment section of Tove’s page.

Photo courtesy of Camp Howe, Goshen, Massachusetts
 

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Cultural Exchange

I tell our camp staff from other countries the same thing every year: "Remember, you may be the first person from your country that a child has ever met. What do you want them to know about you and your culture?" It is a very powerful message and leads us beyond stereotypes to true understanding. Camp is the perfect place for a child to expand their world view. A camper can see flags from around the world in our lodge and know that people from all of those countries have stood where he or she is standing. This year we'll add the flag of the tiny country of Andorra to that impressive display. I vividly remember removing and replacing flags of Eastern European countries in the early 90's as cultural exchange participants wept over the changes happening in their homeland. I firmly believe that the campers and staff that shared those moments had a much better understanding of the personal impact of those amazing changes. Camp makes kids think and explore. Cultural exchange makes camp better.