by Marina Lukanina
"Every person, all the events of your life, are there because you
have drawn them there. What you choose to do with them is up to you."
— Illusions, The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, Richard Bach
This wonderful quote could be applied to my life. As a native of Moscow,
Russia, I would not ever have dreamed that someday I would be studying
for my master's degree as a Fulbright Scholar in Chicago, attending
the International Camping Congress in Mexico City, and more importantly,
progressing step-by-step toward my ultimate goal of working in the camp
Surprisingly, one of the worst memories of my childhood was when I was
sent to a summer camp at the age of seven. If someone had told me then
that a career in camp management would be something I would pursue so
persistently, I would not have believed them.
My second camp-related memory dates back to 1990 when I was ten years
old. At that time, I learned about a student exchange program called
Camp Counselors USA (CCUSA) when my sister was a participant. I have
kept her letters from Texas and like to re-read them occasionally. I
was most impressed by one line: "Marina, study English. May you
get to see and experience as much as I did." That line was carved
into my memory so deeply that I began looking forward to the time when
I could take part in this program and become a member that special community
known as camp.
When I look back upon my life I can easily trace the process of transformation
from the age of eighteen. 1999 was the year when I first participated
in the CCUSA program and came to this country along with thirteen hundred
other participants to work in my first American camp. The dream of a
ten-year-old girl came true.
Participation in CCUSA was a major step in my camp career. For four
summers I worked at Med-O-Lark Camp in Maine. Working at this camp gave
me a great opportunity to interact with people from all over the world.
It made me realize that international exchange programs in such an environment
such as a camp are the best means to promote mutual understanding and
respect among nations. They provide excellent opportunities for children
and adults to discover other cultures and rediscover their own.
If we are lucky, people we meet on our road through life usually enrich
and sharpen it in a better way. I consider myself to be an extremely
fortunate person as all through my life I have been influcenced by special
people. My personal and professional development were enriched by working
under the supervision of my camp director, Jay Stager. I consider him
to be the most influential person in my life as he showed me the ideal
example of an achiever and a goal-oriented person. His great example
of a successful businessman and an outstanding camp director with a special
talent of working with children made me think about working professionally
in the field of camp and developing my own international arts camp someday.
Applying Camp Principles
In the meantime, my exchange summers were over before I even realized.
I graduated from the university in Moscow receiving my undergraduate
degree in theater management and ended up getting a job which had nothing
to do either with camp or with theater. However, in every one of my non-camp
related jobs, I tried to find elements that would benefit me as a future
camp director. My work has always been concentrated in human resources
management — a key area for any camp director. I tried to digest
and absorb as much information and as many skills as possible to form
a solid platform for hiring and developing my own camp staff someday.
One of my key findings was that we should never stop learning; we never
"outgrow learning instruments."
In every place I have worked, I have also tried to apply some of my
camp experiences. Once I suggested the idea of a candle ceremony from
Camp Med-O-Lark as a closing for one of the corporate team-building events
at my work, and it was a huge success. It brought me to an understanding
that utilizing the best practices and ideas from various fields and making
the necessary business contacts will eventually benefit me as a future
I have always been open and alert to any possible ways of being involved
within the camp community in Russia, even on a volunteer basis. It is
often said that opportunities do not tend to fall in our laps. It is
necessary to go out and get them. My first major guide into the field
was the CCUSA Country Director for Russia, Valery Kostin. Thanks to him
I have met many interesting camp people.
Pivotal Learning Events
Applying for a Fulbright scholarship and coming to Columbia College
Chicago to study youth arts development was another step toward my goal
of entering the camp profession. Recently, I was able to attend two events
that were extremely enriching and motivating. Both events were completely
different, but both of them served as an additional affirmation for me
that I am on the right path, associating with camp professionals. These
events were the International Camping Congress in Mexico City (organized
by International Camping Fellowship, hosted by Mexican Camping Association)
in October, 2005, and the Student Camp Leadership Academy, a pilot program
offered by American Camp Association (ACA) in Illinois in November, 2005.
I was the only participant who was able to attend both events.
International Camping Congress
It is hard to think of a better place for an International Camping Congress
(ICC) than Mexico — a country with a rich culture, wonderful people,
and a fascinating environment. I don't feel able to judge this Congress
objectively as it was the first International Congress that I have attended.
Yet I truly believe that the ICC was especially enriching for young professionals
who are only beginning their first steps in a camp management career. It
was an excellent opportunity to meet and communicate with camp gurus from
around the world as well as the enthusiastic Mexican counselors. Visiting
Mexican camps and talking to Mexican camp directors was an invaluable experience.
It seems that we do not know enough about camps in other countries.
It was interesting that not many Mexicans were aware that there are children's
camps in their own country. While attending the Congress I stayed with
one Mexican family. Every evening after the Congress we had long conversations.
At the end of my stay they told me that they had learned so many things
during the week about the camp movement and Mexican camps in particular.
The more we foster and promote international exchange of different ideas
and practices, the better our camps will be.
During the closing ceremony of the ICC, Michael Pearse led the song
We Can Make A Difference, written by his father, Jack Pearse. Had this
song been sung in any other location except the camp community, it would
have sounded shallow. However, at that particular place and time, I am
sure that all the ICC delegates felt complete confidence in those words.
The need to attract more young people to become members of the International
Camping Fellowship and attend the Congresses is obvious. Particular attention
should be paid to the younger generation who will follow today's
camp specialists. Nourishing and developing future staff is one of the
most important issues in any industry, and the camp industry is extraordinary
in needing people with special dedication.
Student Camp Leadership Academy
When I heard about an opportunity to participate in the Student Camp
Leadership Academy (SCLA), I was very excited. Something I had never
heard of before — a
Camp Academy! The SCLA event was organized as a series of workshops in
which the leadership role was gradually transferred from camp directors
and ACA staff to the participants. ACA staff and camp directors shared
with us their visions of the current camp industry and the best ways for
us to approach it on a professional level. We learned about many aspects
of the role of ACA in the camp industry, the process of accreditation and
its importance, as well professional development opportunities such as
the Basic Camp Director Course and New Director Orientation. The door opened
for the participants into professional camp education.
I believe that the SCLA definitely outgrew its own goals in one weekend.
The event was especially valuable in terms of introducing young people
who are only beginning their camp career paths to all the aspects of this
profession. The greatest outcome of the event for me was networking with
camp professionals, ACA staff and camp directors as well as my peers who
are interested in the same career as I am. We were able to share our experiences
and discuss what we see as our next steps in the field. I believe that
one of the main concepts that I had previously missed was seeing camp not
only as a "summer great escape" but as an actual business with
its difficulties and challenges. Understanding that now only makes me even
more motivated to gain greater knowledge and expand my experiences as much
Peg Smith, chief executive officer of ACA, was with us during that weekend
and raised many important topics such as current trends in the camping
industry, the need to establish relationships between the camp and campers'
parents, the necessity of attracting and maintaining diverse communities
in camps, and the idea of networking with schools instead of competing
One of the strong suggestions conveyed to us was that we should not
work at the same camp year after year unless we learn completely new
things. Most of the participants were understandably reluctant to accept
this idea. Now I am ready to move on and to work in a different camp,
but when I remember coming to the U.S. under CCUSA, it did not occur
to me to change camps. It would have almost seemed like a betrayal. Med-O-Lark
defined my long-term objective of working in camping and eventually operating
my own camp someday. To accomplish this challenging goal, I need to study
further and work in different kinds of camps to be able to apply what
I have learned to create one more special community — a new camp.
There will never be a perfect academic program for camp management.
As young professionals, we should take the i