BEST PRACTICES for International Staff in ACA Camps

April 2001

Please check our International Staff Best Practices page for more up-to-date information.


The availability of international staff is made possible by a number of organizations that are formally designated as cultural exchange programs by US Department of State (Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs). Over the last several decades, the use of such staff has evolved from a value-added opportunity into a vital resource for many American summer camps. As this trend continues, we must take care not to lose sight of the cultural exchange aspect of these programs.

Additionally, as an industry we are bound to protect the resources on which the summer camp experience depends. We unite to address environmental, educational, legal and financial issues. We set standards for which we hold ourselves accountable, and we understand the moral and ethical aspects of conducting an enterprise that is essentially human in nature. It is reasonable, therefore, that we identify and engage in best practices as we employ counselors and support staff from overseas. Moreover, following such practices is consistent with our mission of “…enriching the lives of children and adults through the camp experience”.

In the past year, ACA volunteers and staff met with the leaders of the organizations who work with the camp community in providing international staff to be used in cultural exchange with camps. These agencies recruit and screen young people from other countries to work at US camps under the J-1 cultural exchange visa program. We recognized there has been a substantial increase in the number of international staff working in US camps in the last five years, and a number of issues and trends have emerged. We have joined with camp directors and international staffing agencies to isolate the basics that are expected of participating camps.

In addition, we have enumerated exemplary practices, i.e., those practices that display a higher degree of commitment to the education and welfare of internationals and the tenets of cultural exchange.

We are proud of the fact that many of our members already make extensive use of these practices. Whether you currently use international staff, or plan to do so in the future, we hope that they serve as a useful tool for benchmarking current methods and procedures. We look forward to ongoing cooperation with camps and international staffing agencies as we maximize and enhance our use of this most important human resource.

Leaders in the international staffing agencies agreed that, regardless of which agency a camp utilizes or the type of camp seeking staff, the success of the cultural exchange experience for the camp and for the staff member depends on a number of identified “best practices". You may want to post the practices listed on the back as a reminder during the summer.

Sponsoring agencies would be happy to help you strengthen your international staffing practices or put you in touch with directors who do it effectively. For further information, contact the following agencies: International Staff Placement Organizations

The following “best practices" have been identified as those that directly contribute to the success of the cultural exchange experience for the camp and for the staff member.

Sponsoring Agency and Administrative Practices

Expected practices of directors:

  • Understand that the purpose of the J1 visa program is for cultural exchange
  • Establish a strong relationship with sponsoring agency
  • Provide decent wages and access to money owed (note that checks are hard for internationals to cash. Offer help with that process!)
  • Be aware of the insurance coverage of the agency. Workers' Compensation coverage is dictated by what the state regulations require
  • Have a crisis plan in place for dealing with injury to, arrest, or death of an international

Exemplary practices of directors:

  • Feature cultural programming in camp
  • Show international programs and staff in camp marketing materials

Hiring Process

Expected practices of directors:

  • Be able to define why the camp wants to include internationals on their staff (other than filling vacancies)
  • Interview the potential applicant on the phone prior to hiring
  • Be thorough in evaluating candidates and selecting staff
  • Spend at least as much time in hiring process as you do with American staff
  • Provide clear expectations of staff while at camp

Exemplary practices of directors:

  • Able to articulate how inclusion of international staff fits into their camp philosophy
  • Avoid stereotyping nationalities by demonstrating a willingness to hire international staff from all countries and use them in all positions

After Hiring - Prior to Camp

Expected practices of directors:

  • Talk to the staff member by phone before camp
  • Provide advanced information by mail or e-mail including policies, handbook, organizational chart, map, weather, what to bring, camp Web site, orientation/training schedule, job descriptions, camper profile, rules & regs, mission/purpose, time off policies, transportation to town options, e-mail of mentor/buddy, local attractions/local community info, etc.
  • Paint a realistic picture of the camp and establish expectations, i.e., help with understanding of rural community differences, sleeping accommodations, typical menus.

Exemplary practices of directors:

  • Provide opportunities for effective networking with former international staff in their country, e.g., share e-mail addresses of former camp staff

Arrival and Pre-camp

Expected practices of directors:

  • Provide comfortable/efficient transportation to camp from orientation site
  • Arrange for welcoming staff on arrival
  • Be sensitive to time and cultural adjustments needed
  • Provide adequate housing that is welcoming and clean, including linens and bedding
  • Active effort to integrate groups of staff
  • Be sensitive to language issues
  • Training reflects understanding in dealing with cultural differences - sexual practices, hygiene, sexual harassment, fashions, etc.
  • Provide responsible education/orientation - training for understanding and competence
  • Be sensitive to food issues, allergies, cultural and religious practices - e.g., lactose intolerance, pork

Exemplary practices of directors:

  • Demonstrate a real attitude of "I care about you and want you to have a successful summer."
  • Utilize a contact/liaison on camp staff who understands international issues
  • Develop a buddy/mentor system

During the Summer

Expected practices of directors:

  • Provide positive feedback and reinforcement
  • Continue to acknowledge and work with language differences
  • Help arrange transportation on time off
  • Continue to partnership with agency on "problems"
  • Be sensitive to financial issues - e.g., cashing checks
  • Provide secure place for papers and valuables
  • Treat all staff as adults; treat support staff equal to program staff
  • Have trained/competent supervisors
  • Provide for open communication between the director and international staff
  • Provide Internet access - e-mail
  • Demonstrate a real VALUING of international staff and acceptance of cultural differences
  • Provide on-going training and support
  • Provide at least some cultural programming as a part of the camp's activities
  • Be sensitive to health issues - doctors, dentists, medications, etc.
  • Encourage staff to obey the rules of the program and return to home country after the summer
  • Support the rules governing the J-1 program which restricts switching staff between support and counseling roles
  • Develop a program of training and support to solve a problem, using fair termination policy as a last resort and only after consultation with the sponsoring agency
  • Provide opportunities for out of camp recreational or area tourist experiences
  • Make provision for international staff to do their laundry
  • Give access to camp activities and facilities
  • Provide adequate time off
  • Treat American and international staff equally especially in number of hours required to work

Exemplary practices of directors:

  • Have outstanding cultural programming
  • Provide multi-national opportunities showing diversity in camp
  • Feature some international staff and programming in the camp video
  • Identify and work with local family or alumni sponsors to integrate staff into the local community
  • Provide international staff with an equal shot at key positions & leadership opportunities
  • Help with transportation post-camp


Originally published in the 2001 Spring issue of The CampLine.