What we Learned from an International Exchange Participant Survey
It’s been a while since you’ve heard from me in a blog. I’d like to say it’s because I’ve been crazy busy, and while yes, I was busy finishing my PhD, the main reason I’ve taken a hiatus from writing blogs is because of COVID-19. I’m not going to lie, it’s got me a bit bummed out. Renée and I were ready to offer our April 2020 course to over 70 participants and then… well, you know what happened. Ever since I’ve struggled to remain positive and dedicate much mental energy into thinking about the summer camp exchange program. But…
My good friend and colleague reminded me of all this incredible data that we collected a little while ago about the summer camp exchange experience. I realized that I hadn’t analyzed it yet and by doing that and reflecting on what it all meant really made me excited about camp exchange programs getting up and running again! So, let me tell you about this study.
I could talk to you about how our recruitment procedures weren’t totally scientifically solid, how the data isn’t super strong, or what the limitations are of the study, but let’s be honest. I care about that much more than you do, and all that belongs in an academic paper (which, I might write so stay tuned!). Instead, let me give you the basics.
We had 364 people take part in our survey. These people came from all over the world (including places like Australia, New Zealand, England, Poland, Mexico, and so many more) and worked at camps in the United States or Canada. Most people worked at camp for one or two summers, but we had five people who worked at camp for 25 years or more, including one who worked for 39 years! We asked them questions about their reasons for wanting to work at camp (i.e., their motivations) and why they chose to return or not return to work at camp overseas. This is what we learned…
On a scale of 1-6, overall, the biggest motivating factors were experiencing living in a different culture (4.98 on average), learning about summer camp culture (4.79 on average), and traveling in the United States (4.59). The least motivating factor was… you guessed it – making money (2.83 on average).
The most common reasons why people wanted to return to work at camp was that they had an emotional attachment to camp, they enjoyed the work, they had positive social relationships, and they felt like they were making a difference. The most common reasons why people did not return to work a camp were the summer schedule conflicted with other educational opportunities, change in life circumstances (think partners, no longer in uni), poor pay, and that camp work wasn’t related to career goals.
We also asked people how transitioning home was after being abroad at camp and more than half the participants (60.8%) said it was difficult. We asked participants what the most challenging part of returning home was. Answers included things like missing new friends, no longer being constantly surrounded by people, and going back to reality. One participant commented “no one at home understood the value of summer camp” while another said “no one else had changed but I felt like I had a lot.” These comments show that coming home is hard and that a lot of people experience really profound self-transformation while at camp!
This information is interesting for potential J1 exchange participants, sponsor agencies, and camps too! Our survey showed that people want to go to camp to learn about other cultures and try new things. Camps and sponsor agencies can support participants in this by celebrating the culture of camp and helping participants explore the local areas on days off. Excursions and tours in local cities put on by sponsor agencies prior to camp orientation days might help participants get that taste of local culture prior to arriving at camp.
Our survey also shows that, overall, participants really enjoy their exchange experiences and many people would return to camp, if they could! Agencies can continue to harness this excitement about camp and explore ways that participants can be supported in sharing their love of camp once returning home.
People who are interested in going overseas to camp should think about the power of this experience that former participants describe. It’s clear that a summer at camp can change you in incredible ways and you’re guaranteed to make some friends for life!
Thanks to everyone who participated in the survey! Your insights are really valuable to us and to the industry as whole. This little survey could be the start of something great and help elevate the value of a summer camp exchange experience for more young people all over the world!