Importance of our Cultural Exchange

My posts tend to be personal in nature and this is certainly one of those. Its purpose is not to offend anyone, and is purely my thoughts and opinions.

If you have ever been to Camp Allen, you know we have unique international staff that have made huge impacts on our camper’s lives every summer. The J1 visa program that our staff come through via agencies like Camp Leaders or Camp America is billed as a cultural exchange between nations. For parents and caregivers, I think it is thought of as something neat. For our campers they get to have friends from all over the world. For our staff they get to share their culture, language, food, and accents with campers and staff. But for me the staff share something far greater. I am going to share my thoughts on two of these individuals and how they were able to give me and Camp Allen something more.

Before my first campers arrived in 2008, I was a nervous wreck. Ann Marie made me the cabin leader of Den and Lodge which I thought at the time I deserved, but a more mature Michael recognizes that that was probably not the best of ideas. I slept in Den with Gus from Brazil, with my campers Michael, Robert, John, Jeff, and Jason. I thought Gus was literally the coolest person I had ever met in my life. He was an incredible skateboarder and looked the part as well. He had this way about him that instantly made you want to be his friend. As someone who had no idea what I was doing, I watched Gus with the campers. All he did was be a friend to the camper, and for Gus, he would do anything for a friend. To this day, when I talk to the new staff every year I say be yourself and treat your campers as a friend, because that is what they are, friends. I tell them, “I thought of this myself”, but Gus truly deserves the credit.

The next summer we had another person, who would have a profound impact on me, literally show up out of nowhere. Alex’s dad literally dropped him off during the second session of the summer. Alex was from France, and at the time his English was not great, but I have never in my time at Camp seen anyone take to the job like Alex. He was an absolute natural, but unlike others he never settled for being good, he wanted to be great at everything he did, whether it be soccer or more importantly to me, a wonderful leader. Over the next few weeks his English improved greatly, and he was one of the best counselors at camp. For the next two summers he returned and was to me, the epitome of what a leader should be. A true leader brings out the best in everyone. I can tell you with confidence that when Alex was the cabin leader, every single one of the counselors who worked with him were better at their job in less than a week. Alex, without ever being my cabin leader taught me how to be a better leader, which is something I will always cherish.

Gus and Alex are both now immigrants to the United States. Gus lives in New York City and is still as cool as ever. Alex lives in Boston and still visits Camp Allen from time to time. Stephen and I parade him around to new staff, and say “this guy is a legend!” Both of these men make our country better and we are lucky to have their skills and their passion.

I try as hard as I can not to be political or too idealistic in these posts, but sometimes I wish that more people would spend time with our campers and staff during the summer. Diversity only makes us better. The skills I learned from Gus and Alex probably would not have happened if we did not have our cultural exchange. We learn from those who are different, and I think Camp Allen is one of the best places to learn out there. I know the world is a complicated place but in my mind Camp Allen is a microcosm of what the world should be. We will not judge you based on your religion, race, sexual preference, or disability. All that matters is your character. I would hope that everyone who comes up that hill to Camp Allen is judged based on their character, to which the most important feature is your capacity for love and kindness.

As always, thank you for reading and please let me know your thoughts.

With love,


1 Comment

  1. I just read post on cultural exchange. Michael, I could not have said it any better. Kevin has learned so much from your staff that has made him a. even better person than he already was. Thank you and your staff for everything.

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