It's a Small World, After All

by Teresa Nicodemus

In São Paulo, Brazil, campers play baseball to help them learn the English language. Near Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, campers trek through the jungle to see a shelter Aborigines have made. In New Zealand and England, families spend holidays at camp together.

Every day of the year, children and adults of virtually all cultures are exploring nature, making friends, and encountering their world in a new way through the camp experience. Despite geographical and cultural differences, camp remains a place of safety and discovery for children and families around the world.

Flexible Camp Season
While summer camp flourishes in the months of June through August in the U.S., the camp season varies throughout the world. In New Zealand, for example, the busy camp season begins in the midst of winter, coinciding with the school holiday.

"Many children, especially in the rural communities, are away at boarding school," says Erin McKergow, an outdoor instructor in adventure recreation at Bradford Woods, Indiana, and a native of New Zealand. "Our ‘summer' runs from December 20 to January 20 when kids are home from boarding school. She explains that parents hesitate to send their children away again to camp when they return from school. As a result, family camping is big during that time as families vacation together. 

In England as in New Zealand, camp sessions are flexible and generally run throughout the year, incorporating school holidays and family vacations. "We don't have summer camp like in the U.S. Summer is not the most popular time for camp in England," observes Daniel Milner, whose home country is England and who is also working this summer at Bradford Woods as an outdoor instructor in environmental education.

In Malaysia, winter months are also the most popular for campers. Unlike the U.S., Malaysia enjoys a tropical climate year round; this warmer climate is reflected in a year-round camp season with the busiest months for camp being December and January when children have their longest school vacations.

Malaysia's camp sessions include busy weekends and holiday sessions. The year-round camp movement, beyond weekend and holidays, is a newer trend in the U.S. Five-day or longer sessions for resident camps, which is popular in the U.S., is a new trend within Malaysia, according to Connie Coutellier. Last winter, Coutellier spent a month in Malaysia teaching programming techniques and operational procedures at Jungle Lodge camp.

Learning Together in Malaysia

Immersed in Malaysian culture and camp life, Coutellier found both differences and similarities between U.S. and Malaysian camp cultures.

Decentralized versus centralized
Most camps in Malaysia are centralized, meaning more structured. Programming is planned by the administration. During Coutellier's visit she taught counselors the value of decentralizing camp so that small groups planned activities and programming to enhance socialization skills. "Groups of campers worked together with their counselor to plan the week's activities. Counselors were also taught to guide the group to come up with rules for getting along while at camp. The kids loved it," stated Coutellier.

Amran Ariff Ahmad, a camp counselor from Jungle Lodge, agrees. Before the ACA training his camp was centralized, he says, but now the kids plan activities together and have more fun doing what interests them. Ahmad is learning more about operational procedures of U.S. camps by working as an outdoor specialist in environmental education and adventure recreation at Bradford Woods.

Tiger tracks and glow worms
While U.S. campers backpack through woods and forest lands, Malaysian campers trek through the jungle. The goal of both is often the same - to learn environmental awareness and the importance of preserving the natural environment. Along the winding path through the lush, tropical jungle, Malaysian campers might see tiger tracks, enjoy glowing plants and worms that are noticeable in the evening, or look for fresh water prawns. 

Environmental awareness is a fairly new concept in Malaysia. The many environmental organizations that work to preserve U.S. forest lands and wildlife do not exist in Malaysia. During a jungle trek, counselors try to raise children's appreciation for their unique environment. They are also extremely cautious, recognizing the potential dangers of flash floods or high waters during monsoon season and razor sharp leaves on certain vegetation – much like U.S. counselors taking every precaution during hikes with campers. Leeches are a common nuisance on jungle treks, and campers are schooled in proper removal of the parasite. Coutellier, during staff training, taught Malaysian counselors universal precautions against blood-borne illnesses.

Although jungle treks are exciting adventures for Malaysian campers, many Malaysian camps also offer sophisticated initiatives, experiential education, ropes courses, and jungle survival skills - programming that is not much different from U.S. camp activities according to Hafiq Rizal Hamisam, a camp counselor from Jungle Lodge who is also working as an outdoor specialist at Bradford Woods.

Playing in the rain
U.S. camp programming might be slightly deterred due to rain; most activities are moved indoors on a rainy day. During the monsoon season in Malaysia, it rains every day. Camp programming continues as planned with counselors being mindful of possible flooding, slippery conditions, or mud slides.

Organized Camping in Brazil
Although camps may be more prominent in some parts of the U.S., generally one can find a camp in any state. In Brazil, the camp movement is centralized around the larger cities, including São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro where the standard of living is highest. Large portions of north and northeast Brazil are not well developed, and as a result, few camps exist in those areas.

"The environment is so pristine [in the underdeveloped areas] that kids can canoe, hike, and do all those things they could do at any camp," states Ricardo Moraes, who led outdoor education and environmental programs in Brazil as operational director of Farm ‘N English, a camp he and his wife, Elisabete, owned in Brazil. "Parents in Brazil view camp differently; they see it as more recreational rather than as a learning opportunity. " 

Experiential learning
U.S. camp directors are not alone as they try to convey the camp experience as a learning opportunity. Brazilian camp directors share the challenge of convincing parents that camp offers a unique experiential opportunity for children to learn new concepts, improve social skills, and increase self-esteem.

Elisabete Moraes, program director for Farm ‘N English camp and a teacher of English as a second language to Brazilian students, wanted to bring more experiential learning into her classroom. She wanted to engage kids in learning. Her class evolved into a day camp program and then grew into a resident camp program with the goal of "engaging them [campers] in learning, motivating them to learn, and preparing them for student exchange programs," says Elisabete.

Inner-city kids benefit
No matter whether children are living in New York or São Paulo, camp still opens doors for children to learn from their peers and counselors in a setting removed from the norm. The idea of exposing children to a new environment in order to learn was not new at Farm ‘N English. "We felt the whole idea behind teaching a second language was exposing them [campers] to a different culture. Going to a farm for these inner-city kids of São Paulo was a new experience and exposed them to the culture we created at the Farm. We immersed the campers in the English language; everything was in English. Before we did any activity, for example, canoeing, we would have a session where we learned all the English words we would need to use on our canoeing trip," says Elisabete.

The competitive business of camp
According to Elisabete, the concept of camp in Brazil is much the same as it is in the U.S.; however, camps in Brazil are usually for-profit, private enterprises. Brazilian camps are less often run by nonprofit organizations as in the U.S. Camp is a competitive business in Brazil. As a result, camps are protective of their program and not many camp directors or staff share programming techniques, ideas, and activities with other camps.

Recognizing the need for risk management
For Ricardo, the biggest difference between U.S. camps and Brazil camps is the level of risk management. "Risk management and liability is not as involved in Brazil; liability is not as big of an issue as it is in the U.S.," said Ricardo, who is currently working as a program specialist in the therapeutic area at Bradford Woods.

Ricardo expressed the need to create risk management policies and apply American Camping Association standards to all camps in Brazil. "We don't have the policies as you do here [in the U.S.]. For example, most camps in Brazil do not require helmets during horseback riding. After my experience here in the U.S. with risk management, I'd try to follow risk management procedures in Brazil," said Ricardo.

Camps Share a Common Link
From Malaysia to Europe, from jungle treks to hikes, and from five-day sessions to weekend sessions, camp crosses cultural boundaries. Almost every day of the year at camps around the world, children are enjoying safe places, having fun, and discovering. The world of camp grows smaller every day as we connect and learn from each other.

Teresa Nicodemus is the assistant editor of Camping Magazine. Activities in this article were adapted from the 4-H Multicultural Training Guide.
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Originally published in the 2000 July/August issue of Camping Magazine.