The camp experience develops campers and staff into communicators, innovators, and leaders — they are our future, and our future is global.
By prioritizing diversity through hosting international exchange visitors, camps ensure they nurture cultural appreciation and inclusivity and prepare campers and staff to be ambassadors for positive global relations and leaders in their future careers.
Engaging Diversity by Hiring International Exchange Visitors Can . . .
One of the most important aspects of youth is the development of one's authentic self. Exposure to and celebration of diverse cultures at a young age creates a worldview where accepting and appreciating differences is the norm and contributes to creating an overall culture in the US where diversity is normalized. Welcoming a diverse group of people at camp provides campers and staff with an understanding of different backgrounds, points of view, and life experiences. These new perspectives and stories can resonate and lead to self-discovery in one's values, interests, or what they appreciate most about themselves.
Bring Creative Ideas to Camp
One of the most beloved aspects of camp is its deep traditions. While honoring tradition, keeping the camp youthful, fresh, and relevant to the current cohort is equally essential. International counselors can bring ideas from their home cultures to diversify camp activities, problem-solving from a new perspective, and contribute to new camp initiatives, such as our former camp counselor, James, who established a podcast for his camp.
Foster Cultural Acceptance, Appreciation, and Inclusivity
A camp experience where one celebrates cultures through activities such as creating art with designs from Ghanaian textiles, learning Turkish words, or eating s'mores with an Indian spice twist makes positive associations with learning about and interacting with new cultures. Inviting international counselors to your camp also allows them to write their narratives by directly sharing about themselves, their lives, and their cultures.
Inspire Global Curiosity
There are 206 sovereign states, over 7,000 languages, and 1,154 UNESCO sites. There are so many life-changing adventures waiting in each new city, thought-provoking conversations to have with strangers, and breathtaking landscapes to make one appreciate our world. Depending on a camper's or staff's access or interest in the international unknown, they might not be aware of or excited about the possibilities beyond our borders. The first step a camp can take is to introduce to them new cultures and find ways to make them curious about discovering more.
Additionally, creating a desire to see our world can open opportunities for careers one may have never considered — such as working at an international post with the US Department of State. The possibilities are out there, and a seemingly small choice of hiring an exchange visitor can illuminate the incredible potential for their future.
Furthermore, most people will not travel to every sovereign state. Therefore, by diversifying international staff, campers and staff can have first-hand experiences with cultures they may never interact with otherwise.
Hosting an international exchange visitor opens the world to campers and staff.
Prepare Campers and Staff for a Global Future
From social media to increased tourism to the global marketplace, Americans' interactions with foreigners will continue to become a regular part of life. As a result, creating positive connections with international camp counselors can provide a variety of valuable skills in personal and professional settings. Some of the skills gained through this experience include:
- Cultural awareness and sensitivity: Building positive relationships with international camp counselors allows individuals to learn about different cultures, traditions, and ways of thinking, which can help develop cultural awareness and sensitivity, vital in today's globalized world.
- Communication skills: Communicating effectively with people from different backgrounds and languages is valuable in any setting. Interacting with international camp counselors allows one to practice communication skills, including active listening, clarity, and adaptability.
- Leadership skills: Working with international camp counselors provides an opportunity to develop leadership skills, including teamwork, problem-solving, and decision-making. These skills can be helpful in personal and professional settings, including managing diverse teams and projects.
- Networking opportunities: Creating positive connections with international camp counselors can lead to networking opportunities beneficial for personal and professional growth, including access to mentors, job opportunities, and new social relationships.
- Self-confidence and independence: Interacting with people from different backgrounds and cultures can help build self-confidence and independence as individuals learn to navigate new environments and adapt to different situations.
With camps' recruiting struggles, hiring international exchange visitors helps their staffing roster and boosts the ability to market camp jobs to Americans. In addition, the camp can provide real-world experience collaborating with people from different cultures, a beneficial addition to one's resume, and offer an in-country experiential travel experience where they can authentically connect with another culture, a rising trend in travel.
Aid US National Security Objectives
Camps can actively participate in the United States' national security objectives by hosting foreign camp counselors. Bringing people together from different countries to share a summer where they learn from one another, build bonds through the unique experience of camp, and create lifelong memories plays a vital role in the United States' foreign policy goals and national safety objectives. The positive relations developed during summer camp build tolerance between nations and the ability for leaders from different countries to collaborate on the issues we all face — global health crises, climate change, disinformation, etc.
Every choice a camp makes from the activities they offer to the staff they hire will shape the personalities and perspectives of both camp and staff. Camps that welcome international exchange visitors and celebrate diversity create a world where future change-makers can always find common ground. They encourage people to appreciate and accept one another regardless of their similarities or differences and foster a sense of global community.
K.Leigh Furzer is the director of seasonal programs with LifeTRAVELED, a designated Department of State sponsor for BridgeUSA programs. LifeTRAVELED's American Camp Exchanges (ACE) program helps camps create a memorable and meaningful summer by hiring qualified international camp counselors and support staff on the BridgeUSA Camp Counselor and Summer Work & Travel visas. LifeTRAVELED's camps have access to a database of participants with skills to enhance their activities and create an environment where campers can blossom into the most authentic versions of themselves.