about camp counselor
For over fifty years the J-1 Camp Counselor exchange program has been a fixture in the great American tradition of summer camp.
International counselors have been firmly woven into the rich texture of summer camp with over 750,000 participants from dozens of countries over the course of half a century. The program is positioned for unique cultural exchange and experiential growth thanks to the sheer vibrancy and energy of U.S. summer camps, their diversity, and the varied opportunities for interaction that they afford. Participants take on an assortment of leadership and support roles and creatively engage with American children, adults, peers, families, and communities from all manner of backgrounds, economic strata, and ideologies. The “ripple effects” of these experiences are hugely exponential, influencing the lives of U.S. citizens through interaction and relationships to a scale that is incomprehensible.
As exchange visitors, counselors are able to explore the vast and diverse beauty of the United States when they travel after camp is over, interacting with Americans from all walks of life. When they return home, they bring with them a personal understanding of American values and people, paving the way for positive diplomatic and economic interactions in the future.
The Camp Counselor program has its origins in the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961, Senator J. William Fulbright’s legislation to increase mutual understanding between Americans and the people of other countries.
This legislation created such important academic exchanges as the Fulbright Program, among many others.
The Camp Counselor and other J-1 programs have made a huge impact on U.S economic and diplomatic efforts. They are privately funded and cost nothing to the U.S. taxpayer. In addition to their diplomatic and foreign policy benefits, these programs have evolved to provide important economic benefits to U.S. host camps and seasonal communities.
Camp counselor participants represent a diverse population of qualified individuals including students, teachers, and youth workers. Many have specialized skills they bring with them and teach to campers. They may work at camp during the summer months only, and they are directly responsible for the supervision of American youth. They come from over fifty countries including those important to U.S. national security and American economic expansion, such as Ireland, China, Turkey, and Russia.
The program prohibits camp counselors from serving in roles such as administrative personnel, cooks, or menial laborers, including dishwashers or janitors.
Camp Counselors only work at summer camps within the United States that are either accredited, a member of the American Camping Association, officially affiliated with a nationally recognized non-profit organization, and/or have been inspected, evaluated, and approved by the sponsor.
Summer camps are settings designed to provide countless opportunities for growth in a variety of human endeavors in a uniquely personal way. They are microcosmic environments carefully planned to further personal development, diversify perspectives, teach transferable skills, and intensify the process of human discovery. They accomplish their objectives through close personal interaction with peers, role models, and leaders in a social context resulting in strong bonds and long-lasting relationships. There are few more robust vehicles that fit the spirit of the exchange visitor program more than an experience at a U.S. summer camp.
True to Senator Fulbright’s vision for American exchange programs, the Camp Counselor program operates as a public-private partnership. The Department of State partners with (and regulates) U.S.-based cultural exchange organizations, known as sponsors, to facilitate the program.
Sponsors work closely with host camps to create positive, memorable experiences for exchange visitors. Sponsors support participants throughout their stay in the U.S.
Exchange programs are governed by Department of State regulations that protect the health, safety, and welfare of exchange visitors. These regulations have been reviewed and improved regularly since their implementation.
The regulations require that J-1 Camp Counselor participants must not displace American workers and receive pay and benefits commensurate with their American counterparts. Sponsors are also required to ensure that:
- Placements are appropriately vetted and approved before arrival.
- Exchange visitors are not tied to their host camps and may change placements with sponsor assistance.
- Host camps provide frequent exchange with Americans, language learning, and cultural opportunities.
- Participants are monitored and have access to a 24/7 toll-free help line.