Camp is often described as being a life-changing experience for children. The Directions research, conducted by the American Camp Association (ACA) in 2005, documented the significant growth in positive identity, social skills, thinking skills, and positive values that occurs during a camp session. Although the same type of research has not been conducted with adults, similar growth and change of attitudes has been reported anecdotally by adult participants in international gatherings.

Too often, Americans are guilty of ethnocentrism — defined as "looking through the filters of our own experiences, values, beliefs, and behaviors as the center of our world" (ACA, 2007). Participation in an international event, at any age, enables us to step beyond our comfort level and reap the benefits of broadened horizons. Camp offers an incredibly supportive environment for growth in cultural understanding. The common element of a recreation activity (for the campers) or the work to support the camp experience (for the adults) creates a common language and sense of purpose that allow the cultural differences to fade into the background — or better yet, become a focal point for learning new things. Rob Bixler (personal communication, 2006) describes camp as "strange people, doing strange things, in strange places." When we are in unusual situations, we often rely more on the people around us to figure out how to act and what to do. So a camp designed to encourage interaction, positive choices, and learning about new things is perfect for international exchange . . . for youth and adults alike! This article showcases two unique international programs with the goal of inspiring all of us to look beyond ourselves and embrace the world.

Children of the World

Imagine 300 teenage basketball players and 150 coaches coming together for a weeklong camp experience in connection with the 2010 FIBA (Fédération Internationale de Basketball) World Basketball Championships in Istanbul, Turkey. Think about the logistics, the coordination, the number of languages (seventy-six to be exact!), the fun, and the learning. It happened! In August 2010, three-member delegations (two fourteen-year-old players, one female and one male, and a coach) from 110 different countries (representing five continents) came together to share the "language" of basketball, participate in the opening ceremonies of the World Championship, and learn from each other about teamwork, life, and friendship. The "Children of the World" project set lofty goals for itself to inspire the participants beyond basketball training, which included: educating and debating sports values and societal challenges, celebrating cultures of the world, and creating a youth community. The management team sought and received corporate sponsorship, and with the backing of the Turkish Basketball Federation and support of FIBA, delegations were invited to participate.

The camp program involved opening and closing ceremonies, team-building sessions, specific basketball drills, three-on-three league games, sight-seeing in Istanbul, and opportunities to see world championship basketball games in person. In addition, each of the delegations represented their individual countries in press conferences with local and international media, and made cultural presentations for other campers to highlight the similarities and differences of their cultures. One of the Turkish campers helping host the event said, "It took us less time than anticipated to overcome the first-day tension and unite with campers visiting from the world. We made friends from different countries that we had never even heard of." Coach Chris Dial, from the United States, stated, "Considering the politics, religions, outlooks, points of view, and experiences represented by the participants, it is nothing short of amazing that the only thing that permeated was our common humanity."

What is your camp doing to create connections around the world? In most communities in the United States, there are active and historical immigrant communities that camps can partner with for cultural programs, staff/camper recruitment, and language instruction. The International Camping Fellowship Web site,, offers a multitude of easy, inexpensive program ideas. Almost any camp counselor could use these songs, games, crafts, foods, and plans for special events or cabin time. ACA's Web site,, also provides links to international staff and camper placement agencies. Camp communities are relational by nature, and what better place to provide life-changing connections for your campers and staff?

International Camping Congress

Dream big, like Children of the World, and start small with your camp neighbors. For yourself, take a step by seeing the world through different eyes. The 9th International Camping Congress, which will be held November 4–7, 2011, in Hong Kong, provides a venue for adults to experience the same type of cultural interchange which was present during the Children of the World project. The theme of "Camping — The Gateway to a Quality Life" will set the stage for an unforgettable, life-changing experience . . . a chance for adults to have a "camp experience."

Delegations from at least twenty-five countries are expected to convene at the Wu Kwai Sha YMCA Youth Village for the Congress. Plenary sessions and small group educational and research presentations will be a significant part of the program, but informal conversations while on bus tours or relaxing in the dormitory living areas, sharing meals or a cup of tea, and discussions after a session are often the most memorable. Interaction with peers from the camp and youth development field while at the Congress can provide the basis for lifelong friendships.

Visits to local camps will provide insight into different models of camp programs and have always been a highlight of previous Congresses. Delegates may be surprised to learn that, although Hong Kong is densely populated on a small island, there are green spaces where dozens of beautiful camps provide a respite from the bustling city life. Most of the camps are sponsored by public/governmental affiliates, religious organizations, or agencies such as the Girl Guides, YMCA, or Boys and Girls Clubs.

The Camping Association of Hong Kong has planned a schedule which balances education and research sessions with fun and relaxation. In addition to camp visits, discovery tours, and meals, a free evening on the town will immerse delegates into the essence of Chinese culture. Optional post-Congress tours of various lengths will be conducted for those with time for further Asian exploration.

In 1987, over 1,800 camp professionals gathered in Washington, D.C., for the Second International Camping Congress under the sponsorship of ACA. That conference was historic in many ways, including the formation of the International Camping Fellowship (ICF). The blue butterfly logo, circumscribed with a map of the world on its wings to represent the conference theme of "Our Fragile World," and later adopted as the logo of the International Camping Fellowship, has become a metaphor for the development of greater understanding among the global camping community. Twenty-four years later, countless international exchanges can be attributed to that memorable conference. Subsequent International Congresses were held in Canada, Russia, Japan, Australia, Mexico, and Quebec. Now the global camp community anticipates the flight of the butterfly to China. Won't you join us? We guarantee that your life will never be the same after this experience. Welcome to Hong Kong!


American Camp Association. (2007). Frequently asked questions about international staff hiring and commonly misunderstood issues. Retrieved from

Linda Grier Pulliam is a retired executive of ACA, Virginias, and was a camp director for twenty-seven years. She holds an M.S. Degree in Education, has served on the Steering Committee of the International Camping Fellowship for the past fifteen years, and is the international coordinator for ACA. She may be contacted at

Fahrettin Gözet is the owner and operator of Camp Future Stars (www.campfuturestars .com). He is a member of the Steering Committee of the International Camping Fellowship and the Asia Oceania Camping Fellowship, a founding member of the European Camps Association, and the founding president of the Basketball Camps Association of Turkey. Fahri is happy to discuss details about the Children of the World project and can be reached at

Gwynn Powell, Ph.D. is an associate professor in the Recreation and Leisure Studies Program at the University of Georgia. She has been a volunteer at the local and national levels, including a term on the ACA National Board. She spends summers with students in Russian and Turkish camps learning and sharing with campers and staff. She may be contacted at

Originally published in the 2011 September/October Camping Magazine.