Author: Renee Purcell

What we Learned from an International Exchange Participant Survey

What we Learned from an International Exchange Participant Survey

Hey everyone,

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!

What I Learned at the ACA National Conference

I just got back from the ACA National Conference and I’ve got a few things to share with you! But before we get straight into my learning and takeaways, here’s a bit of information about the ACA, what happens at the national conference, and why I was there.

The American Camp Association

You might be wondering what the ACA is and what the big deal is with the organization overall. The American Camp Association (ACA) is the national camp organization in the United States and it serves a lot of functions for summer camps and their directors, as well as campers and their families. A lot of camps are accredited by the ACA, meaning that they have passed a whole bunch of standards of health, safety, and program standards.

The ACA also puts on professional development events for camps, including annual regional and national conferences. These conferences serve as a meet up point for professionals from all over, where they can talk about what’s working at their organization, challenges they’re facing, and learn from a ton of speakers about different topics. This year’s national conference was in San Diego, California, from February 11th-14th.

Why I Attend National Conference

I am a nerd – and I say that with a smile on my face! I love camp and research, and so I brought the two together in a PhD program.I research the camp experience from a variety of different lenses, including working on the ACA funded 5-year Youth Impact and Staff Impact studies. The National Conference hosts a research forum, and this is where we get our research findings out to camp professionals in presentations. Other researchers and academics present their work at this research forum as well. For more information on this (and past years) research forum, check out this link:

Counselors and “Emotion Work”

A super interesting session was presented by Mandi Baker. In her presentation she talked about the “emotion work” of counselors. Basically, being a camp counselor is hard work. Not only do counselors have long days in the sun and heat, which is physically draining, but they also engage with campers on deep emotional levels and truly care for the kids they work with. Overall, working as a camp counselor is an incredibly intense experience, both physically and emotionally, and so camp counselors need the opportunity to rest and recuperate in both domains as well, so that they can continue to be excellent leaders for the campers they serve!

So, What Does This Mean for Camp Staff?

Alright so what does this mean for camp staff? The bottom line is self care. While you can do things to take care of yourself while you’re working, you also need to be smart about your time off. If you work in overnight camp, when you have a day off, consider if going out all afternoon and having a “few” drinks with other staff is the smartest move. Will this help you recuperate physically? What about mentally? What’s your best option for afternoon and evening activities?

It’s especially hard for international participants to get appropriate rest and time away from camp and other staff members when they work at an overnight camp. Many American staff often have their own vehicles and can drive home to take a break from everything that’s happening at camp. International staff don’t get this luxury. So think about what you can do to get away, whether that’s physically, mentally, or emotionally? Are you able to rent a car and visit a nearby city on your own? Can you write in your journal about everything that’s happened that week? Should you call home and talk to a friend that is always there for you? Whatever it is that you do, make sure you are emotionally rested and ready to start a new week with the campers!

By Victoria Povilaitis

Putting Your Best Foot Forward: Taking the First Steps Towards a Camp Counselor Job

Are you interested in working at a summer camp in the USA, but don’t really know where to begin? Well you’re in luck! Here at GetSETraining, we’ve put together a quick guide to help you take those first steps toward working as a camp counselor. Read on to find out our tips and tricks…

Do your research:

After deciding that you want to go to a summer camp in the USA, your very first step should be to find an agency. These are the people that will support you getting a visa from the United States and will guide you through the overall process. While there are many different visa sponsor agencies, some of the bigger ones are CCUSA, Camp Leaders, IENA, Americamp and Camp America. Each agency will charge you a different fee, but they will also offer different services. For example, depending on your home country some book your flight to the USA for you, and some offer different inclusions and training beforehand. It’s also worth noting that some agencies only work with specific camps or a small number of camps, so do your research online and even consider calling in to talk to a representative about what that agency offers. Keep in mind, some will offer early bird discounts – so it’s definitely worth doing this research early and signing up to take advantage of the reduction in fees!

Completing your application:

Once you register with a visa sponsor agency, they will ask you to do an application with them. This is the information that they will send out to summer camps who might be interested in hiring you. It’s super important that you understand this is a job application. That means that it needs to be professional! Steer clear of using slang like “u” or “gud” and make sure to have a friend or mentor proofread your application. Sometimes it’s easy to oversee errors on your own application since you know yourself so well! If you have an interest in learning a new skill or getting a certification, make sure to do that before you complete your application. The more experience you have in recreational activities (think camping, lifeguarding, rock climbing or archery), the better! If you are experienced in performing arts or horse riding all of those skills are great too. Also, make sure to include all of your work and volunteer experience, including things that you might not think are relevant. Who knows, you might have volunteered at an animal hospital and a camp you’re working at is looking for someone who has experiences with animals!


With smartphones it seems that everyone has a huge number of photos of themselves – selfies, group photos, professional photos and… yikes, unprofessional photos too. It’s really important that you’re aware of the photos you have floating around online. All camp directors check social media to see what kind of person they’re REALLY hiring, so you definitely want to ensure that your photos are the kind that showcase a responsible young person who is capable of looking after children. And while we’re on the topic of photos, make sure you choose a fun, but professional and appropriate one for your application. Here’s a hint: a photo of an applicant holding a beer and smoking doesn’t exactly make a camp director want to hire someone.

Job fair ready:

Once you’ve registered with an agency, it’s likely that you will attend a job fair in a city close to your home. This is an incredibly important day as you will be meeting a lot of potential future bosses of yours! It’s essential that you prepare thoroughly for this day. Preparation includes things like looking up the location ahead of time and figuring out your transportation for the day. If you’re parking, where will you park? If you’re taking public transportation, what’s the quickest route and how do you get from the station to the job fair? Either way, make sure you get there with plenty of time to spare. Nothing’s worse than being stuck in traffic and stressing about not having enough time to see all the camps you want to meet and chat with. Speaking of which, make a list! Agencies will notify you of, or post the camps that will be attending the fair online, so it’s a good idea to look into these camps ahead of time. You can look at their websites or social media accounts to answer questions like: what type of facilities do they have? What type of campers do they cater to? What programs do they offer? Pick your top three and make sure you speak to them first!

When you attend a job fair, make sure you are personally prepared as well. This means dressing appropriately and having all your documents in order. Consider your outfit ahead of time. While a suit and tie isn’t necessary… probably not best to wear your pajamas either (believe it or not, it happens). In terms of your documents, be organized! Have copies of your relevant certifications, whether it be a lifeguarding cert, working with kids qualification, background or police check. Similarly, if you’re going for a specific role like photographer, bring (or have access to online) your portfolio to showcase your work. And finally, be confident! You’ve got this! And with all of this preparation, camp directors will be ready to hire you!

Anxiety at Camp – A review of Bob Ditter’s Camping Magazine Article

Anxiety. Just reading the term might bring up feelings of tightness in one’s chest, a quickened heartbeat, and clammy hands. In reality, it’s something we all face, but some just face it a bit more regularly. Many people have techniques for dealing productively with anxiety, while others let it take over and are unable to function productively.

Let’s dig into this term. defines anxiety as “distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune” or “earnest but tense desire; eagerness”. It also includes a definition in relation to psychiatry as “a state of apprehension and psychic tension occurring in some forms of mental disorder.” So, from these definitions you get a broad understanding of the term anxiety as either a negative feeling (fear), a positive feeling (eagerness), or a mental disorder (clinically diagnosed “anxiety disorder”). Positive feelings of anxiety can be good as they might motivate us to act, but when anxiety is a negative feeling, interventions (and preventative techniques) may be needed.

Bob Ditter is quite well known in the summer camp industry. On his profile on the American Camp Association (ACA) (link:, his is listed as a licensed clinical social worker who specialized in child, adolescent and family therapy. He has written countless articles for the ACA and has been a leader on cutting edge topics such as technology and screen use among adolescents and anxiety. He has recently written an article for the ACA’s publication Camping Magazine (link: discussing issues of anxiety among staff. I encourage you to read the entire article as he includes a lot of great information.

For today’s blog, I want to highlight Ditter’s “Staff Self Care Plan” that he includes at the end of his piece. While he explains why some staff may be experiencing feelings of anxiety working at camp, I think the takeaway here is what to do to prevent feeling overly anxious at camp.

1.     Sleep – We all know the importance of sleep, and for any of us who have already worked at camp, we know how hard it can be to come by. Make sure to plan ahead to sleep during time off and to get to bed early as often as you can.

2.     Short breaks: meditate/breathe – Consider different strategies that work for you during your short breaks, including meditation, deep breathing, or even journaling. Find out what works for you.

3.     Light, daily exercise – While it’s not always possible to get a full workout in at camp, think about ways that you can get your body moving, whether it be a brisk walk, using resistance bands, or body weight exercises.

4.     Plan ahead for your time off! – Be smart about what you do during your time off. Linking back to the first point, sleep is essential and using your time off to rest up would be a wise decision. Be careful not to engage in activities that actually make you more tired – that’s not what time off is meant for!

5.     Have trusted allies – talking to people you trust is one of the best ways to alleviate feelings of anxiety. It’s great to have friends and family back home that you can talk to, but sometimes at camp it’s not possible to access them, so find colleagues and leadership staff that you feel comfortable speaking with.

Hopefully these tips and tricks from Bob Ditter (and elaborated on by me!) are helpful for you during your summer camp work experience. Keep in mind that this is just a taster of the types of things we will talk about during our “Get Prepped” course. If you want more, make sure to register for our course, and watch this space for more blogs coming soon! 

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