Best Practices for a Successful Cultural Exchange Experience with International Camp Staff

by Sharon Kosch

The availability of international staff is made possible by a number of organizations that are formally designated as cultural exchange programs by the U.S. 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. We must also remember that these governmental programs carry with them a number of regulatory obligations that international staff, camps, and agencies must meet. Compliance has a special significance these days in the delicate balance between increased concerns for security and support for cultural exchange.

American Camp Association (ACA) volunteers and staff meet regularly with the leaders of the international cultural exchange organizations who work with the camp community in providing international staff for camps. This partnership has allowed ACA to promote the benefits of the cultural exchange programs and to influence public policy affecting these programs. This unified approach with the agencies that recruit and screen young people from other countries to work at U.S. camps also allows us to address the issues and trends that have emerged in the programs and to isolate the basic expectations for participating camps.

In addition, ACA has 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. These "best practices" directly contribute to the success of the cultural exchange experience for the camp and for the staff member. They also support the legal and regulatory obligations of the exchange visa program. Refer to for a complete listing of ACA-recommended best practices for international camp staff.

As camp professionals, 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 ACA’s mission: ". . . enriching the lives of children and adults through the camp experience."

Many ACA 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. ACA will continue ongoing cooperation with camps and international staffing agencies to maximize and enhance the use of this most important human resource — international staffing programs — and celebrate the youth development opportunities these programs afford.


H1 J-1 Visa Compliance Checklist for Camp Directors

Originally published in the 2005 Winter issue of The CampLine.