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