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! 

Expectations vs. Reality

Everyone’s seen those Instagram posts that show perfectly posed photos, with outfit on point, hair in place, and the perfectly selected photo, contrasted against ones that have none of those features. Overseas work-travel experiences are no different. There are your expectations and then the reality of it.

Going overseas for a work-travel experience is a big deal, and one that you begin to dream about and plan for many months in advance. All this time means that you’ve got a while to imagine every single detail and even obsess about them all. When you spend so much mental effort into picturing these things, you develop expectations.

Unfortunately, when there’s a mismatch between your expectations and reality, challenges arise for everyone involved. In the summer camp context, this means for you (and sometimes your friends, family, and partner back home), your camp directors, and the campers you’re working with. Sometimes the mismatch is good – the experience and everything it encompasses is way better that you expected! (A candid photo can turn out really awesome!) But other times, it’s a little bit, or maybe even wildly different than you thought it would be. In order to avoid this, it’s best to appropriate manage your expectations before you depart for the experience, and also learn techniques to work through the mismatch if it occurs.

Setting expectations:

Before you leave, do as much research as you can, including research on the camp itself. Check out the website and any social media accounts your camp might have. Look at the maps online, learn the daily schedule, read all of the different materials your organization provides you – and do this ahead of time! Don’t let your mind make up ideas about what it might be like, when there’s information available about what it actually is like. And remember to ask questions. The staff working at your camp are there to help you prepare for the experience. It’s all about setting appropriate expectations.

If there’s information you can’t find, don’t let your mind dream up an idea and get the best of you. Allow for some flexibility so that when you do get that information, whether that be when you first arrive at camp or if someone from your camp answers your questions, you won’t have a pre-developed idea of something. Because guess what? If you’ve never done it before, you can’t know what it’ll be like. Part of the fun is experiencing it for the first time, without any preconceived ideas.

Expectation mismatch:

When reality doesn’t meet your expectations, don’t be negative. It’s way easier said than done, I know. But try your very best to stop the negative thoughts from repeating in your mind. Take a deep breath and stop for a bit. Reframe your thinking and don’t allow yourself to wallow in self-pity. Yeah, it sucks – things aren’t what you expected. But the great part is that, while it’s not what you thought it would be, it can be so much more. Even the things that aren’t so great have the potential to teach you lessons and develop different qualities that you may not have been able to otherwise. When your expectations are not met, you’re uncomfortable, but you can learn so much about yourself when you are uncomfortable. Ultimately when your expectations and reality don’t match, it’s an opportunity for you to face a challenge and be successful.

Hopefully these few tips help you prepare for your work-travel experience! If you have other ideas about how to set appropriate expectations, let us know. We’d love to hear them!

The Best Decision I’ve Ever Made

It was almost 10 years ago, and for most people, the impact of a decision made 10 years ago would have faded by now, but that’s not the case for me.

I was a bit nervous, I’m not going to lie. I was traveling to a different country to live and work with people from a range of backgrounds. I would be surrounded by people 24/7, for three months. Not only that, but I was going to be working with kids too, and I was expected to give them an incredible summer experience! How would that even be possible, if I’d never been to camp as a kid? I didn’t know what I was doing. What was I thinking?

I could have let my hesitations and fears take over at this point. I could have decided to stop right there and stay home for the summer. I could have worked at a fast food joint or at landscape company. You know what, I could have just stayed in my comfort zone and been happy as can be…

But then I wouldn’t have had the summer experience of a lifetime. I wouldn’t have gained new life-long friends or learned so many life skills that I still use to this day. I wouldn’t have positively impacted hundreds of kids and been a part of memories they still think about 10 years later. I wouldn’t have changed the lives of so many others, as well as my own.

Going to camp significantly impacted me, to this day. It was the best decision I’ve ever made. It’s a simple as that.

The Origin of GetSETraining

If you’re wondering where this idea for GetSETraining came from, its origin is back in the summer of 2010 at a summer camp in Pennsylvania.

This was my first time doing a work-travel opportunity and working on a J1 visa in the USA, while our other co-founder, Renee, had already been working at camp for a few seasons and had some great experience under her belt. During my first few years at camp, Renee was always a strong leader for me. She used her experience and wisdom to not only help myself and others get through personal struggles and challenges working with campers, but she also inspired many to be better people overall. It has been clear that she always wants the best for others, and wants to help them succeed personally and professionally.

In the summer of 2014, I moved into a leadership role at the camp where Renee and I worked. This change meant that we were working quite closely together on a regular basis and got to know each other much better. We found out that our leadership styles and professional interests aligned quite well. While we originally began working in the camp industry to provide campers with a fantastic experience, our focus has now shifted to staff and their success.

Most staff at summer camp are 18-25 years of age, and are currently in a newly recognized life stage called “emerging adulthood”. This stage is incredibly important as it is when many young people are gaining greater independence by having experiences separate from their family lives. During this time, they are really discovering who they are now, and who they want to be in the future. Renee and I have always had a passion to support staff members during this experience.

Over the years we have seen more young people struggle with the experience of being a staff member at summer camp. In this role they are not only responsible for themselves, but also the many campers in their group. They have to negotiate new social relationships and discover who they are as an individual in a group of staff, apart from who they are as a family member or student. It is a challenging time and more emerging adults are struggling with this experience and process of exploration. This is especially true for those who are engaging in a work-travel program and leaving their support network to travel overseas for this incredible experience.

As Renee and I both travelled to a different country to work at a summer camp, we understand the hardships that come with this, but also the life-changing experience that it is. We have personally experienced it and worked with hundreds of emerging adults who take part in the J1 cultural exchange program. We firmly believe in the importance of preparation for this experience. As we want to support summer camp staff ahead of time, we formed GetSETraining to help young people during this work-travel experience. We hope that with our guidance and support, emerging adults will be able to successfully navigate summer camp work and bring their newfound skills and experiences home.

We’re here to help you! Let us know what type of support you’re looking for in this experience!

When You Grow Up

So, what do you want to be when you grow up?

It’s a classic question that so many young people are asked, in one way, shape or form. Maybe it’s “what do you want to be?”, “what do you want to do for work”, or even as simple as, “what’s next?” For some, they have an answer and for others, they have no idea. Regardless, a work-travel experience like summer camp can make you think differently and approach your experiences in a whole new way.

When I went to camp for the first time, I had an answer. I wanted to be a secondary school physical education teacher. In fact, I was going to a five-year university program to get my bachelor’s degrees in Education and Physical Education. I did follow through with my formal education and graduate the academic year after I first worked a camp, but my work experience drastically changed my path and ultimately, what I want to do.

I met so many incredible people who came from countries I’d never been to and had experiences I’d never even dreamed of. This made me put my idea of what my future would be on hold. I decided to travel to Australia and live, work, and travel there for 6 months. The friendships I made at summer camp deepened and the connections I made there took me across Australia. I stayed in friends’ homes and saw how they lived and interacted with the world. It made me question my own ways of doing so. This experience shaped me in so many ways – I began to understand what I really value in life and what’s most important to me. For me, it’s having positive relationships and challenging myself to be better, both personally and professionally, every day.

Long story short, I went back to school – twice. I continued on to get my Master’s degree, which focused on youth development at summer camp. I am now working on my Doctorate degree, with a similar focus, but broadened to emerging adult development. As a Canadian, I never would have imagined living in the United States, but the people I met and the connections I developed at camp made me aware of the PhD program at the University of Utah. I can very easily say that without going to camp, I wouldn’t be where I am now.

All the while, my focus has been learning and development, and how to promote these for young people, but my path, is drastically different than I imagined. So many of my life experiences stem from summer camp.

None of us can predict the future, but I challenge you to think about where a summer camp experience might take you. When you make new friendships and connections, how will this shape your life? Where will you go? To a new state or country? How will working with kids change what you want to be when you grow up? Maybe you will realize it’s not for you, maybe it will reaffirm that yes, a teaching career, actually is for you. Or who knows, maybe it will show you opportunities you never even knew existed.

“Oh, the places you will go” – Dr. Seuss

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