Monday, January 21, 2013

Leaving On A Jet Plane: The Journey of Our International Staff

Right now, as I type this, thousands of international camp staff are counting down the days until they ship off for Summer Camp in America.  They don’t realize it quite yet, but they are about to embark on a journey that will leave lasting impacts on countless numbers of campers and staff all over the United States.  I should know, I spent many years after my very first summer as a camper trying to emulate and idolize my first camp counselor.  His name was Colin and he traveled from England in the summer of 1988.  Do you think that Colin set out in that summer knowing that one of his campers would be blogging about his impact 23 years later?  Of course not, besides the fact that blogging wasn’t in existence at that time, how could he possibly know he was going to shape someone’s life?

The opportunity to impact lives is one of the greatest strengths of camping.  However, before we can begin to shape our campers’ lives, we must begin to impact and prepare the lives of our staff.   Where do you start?  How do you start?  What can you do to influence the int’l staff of your camp so that they are charged up, juiced and moving in the direction that your culture of camp promotes?

It begins with communication, followed by communication and ends with communication.  These staff are traveling halfway around the world, are experiencing a new country, yet alone a camp culture.  Communication prior to camp is a great way to ease the millions of anxious butterflies that are consuming their stomachs as they count down the days until they go to camp.  Communication helps them to begin to understand what is expected of them.  

I’ve broken down a communication plan into three different segments of camp: Pre-Camp, Staff Training and Summer Camp.

Pre-Camp Communication: 
·         Facebook is a great way for your staff to connect with you and other staff. If you have an active Facebook Group for your camp, it can provide a great avenue to communicating with all of your staff

·         Follow up with staff to make sure they know what their role is and how its important. (In my first summer as a Camp Director, an international I hired to be a special needs counselor arrived and he believed he was working as a member of our maintenance staff.  Somewhere there was a disconnect and imagine traveling halfway around the world thinking you are in one role and finding out you are in another. He did great BTW!)

·         Empower your returning International Staff to help you in the communication process.  Having someone who has gone through the experience can provide excellent insight.

·         Syke them up!  They are embarking on the journey of a lifetime! Get them jazzed for the adventure they are about to take.

·         Review Travel arrangements.  Verify their flight times, airport, etc…Inform them of the plan to pick them up and getting them to camp.  If you don’t have a plan to pick them up, get one!  Your staff are traveling halfway around the world and might very well be terrified at thought of maneuvering around America’s transportation system. Make the positive first impression that you care and have a friendly smiling face to greet them as they clear customs.

Staff Training:
·         Greet them…even if they are arriving in the dead of night. Having that friendly face who has been the point of contact really goes a long way.

·         Know who they are.  These staff are going to be making lasting impacts on your campers!  Know their name, where they are from, their job, and memorize two to three things about each international staff and work it into a conversation.  That first impression of “WOW! They really know me!” can help with them feeling acclimated with camp.

·         Have an “International Only” Session during training (preferably in the first 24 hours of arrival) – cover basics about your camp culture.  Where is the phone/internet access?  How do I contact home? How/When do I get paid? Is there really such a thing as Vampire Deer? (go ahead – google it and find out).  Ask returning internationals to help out.  Hold a Q&A session.

·         Be intentional in your training plan to incorporate the Intl’s into camp.  Camp can be a very intimidating place if you feel you are alone.  Take extra steps to connect them to your culture.  The sooner they connect, the sooner they’ll be making connections with your campers.

Summer Camp:
·         Celebrate them.  Int’l staff have the gift of culture.  That impactful lasting moment in which campers are exposed to diversity, culture, and perspective.  Hold several events celebrating international diversity throughout the summer.

·         Check in with your staff – all of them – encourage them, support them, surprise them, praise them publicly and privately. 

·         Give feedback – be it informal or formal.  Staff want to know how they are doing.  They want to improve.  They want to make an impact on a camper’s life. 

Your staff – domestic and international – are going to have countless opportunities to make an impact, make a difference, and inspire the lives of your campers.  Invest in these staff.  Commit to them. Give them the very experience they are going to strive to reach with your campers.  You won’t regret it.  I know I don’t.

This is the life you have......

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