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International Camp Counselors Build Bridges of Understanding

By Ilir Zherka | Published: September 10, 2019

As the summer comes to a close, international camp counselors, who shape the experience of so many American campers, will be crossing over land and sea to return to their homes abroad. Not only do these counselors infuse American camps with diverse cultures from across the world; a recent study shows that they also forge personal relationships in the U.S. that they carry with them for years to come. These relationships and improved impressions of America help strengthen our national security.

The Department of State’s international Camp Counselor program annually brings almost 25,000 international counselors from around the world to the United States for up to four months during the summer season. The program offers international visitors the chance to temporarily work alongside American colleagues, immerse themselves in American culture, and develop important skill sets. Concordia Language Villages is a Camp Counselor program sponsor and invites about 130 international staff each year to its summer youth residential sessions in northern Minnesota.

While international camp counselors have a lot to gain by participating in the program, the United States gains the opportunity to advance its public diplomacy goals. A recent study by EurekaFacts, Camp Counselor Program 2019 Review Report, found that the U.S. is increasing mutual understanding with each international camp counselor’s return home. According to the report, 84% of alumni report a more positive opinion about the U.S. and American culture after their experience at American camps. An astounding 98% of participants made connections with Americans, and over 91% kept in touch with those American connections after leaving the program. Participants noted that earning money is the least important motivator when deciding to participate in the program.

The U.S., on the other hand, benefits economically from the Camp Counselor program. In 2018, international camp counselors contributed over $59 million to the economy during their 30-day travel period at the conclusion of the camp placements. In these 30 days alone, international camp counselors leave a big economic footprint, in industries related to lodging and entertainment.

Additionally, host camps see the program as a major benefit. In fact, 96% said that exposing American counselors and campers to international culture is a top motivator for participating in the program. And for some camps, such as Concordia Language Villages, international staff also contribute to teaching language in addition to culture.  

Many host camps also rely on the program for the success of their businesses. 91% of host camps believe their organization would be negatively impacted if the Camp Counselor program ceased to exist. Additionally, in the absence of international camp counselors, 78% indicated that their camp services would be reduced, and 50% reported this would result in the inability to operate during the summer season, leading to a drastic decrease in revenues.

The Department of State’s Camp Counselor program creates a network of cross-cultural connections that transcend borders. In addition to being a valuable public diplomacy tool, the program also helps American businesses and strengthens our economy, which is why it enjoys wide support from campers and their families to federal policy makers.

Join us in remaining strong advocates for the Camp Counselor program not only for its value to Concordia Language Villages, but to camps across America!

About the Author

Ilir Zherka is Executive Director of the Alliance for International Exchange. Laine Cavanaugh, Alliance Associate Director, contributed to this article. Concordia Language Villages is a member of the Alliance, and its Executive Director Christine Schulze is a past Alliance Board chair.

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