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9 posts categorized "Camp Exchange USA"

Be prepared to have the best summer of your life: Conor's story

By Conor O'Rourke, CIEE Camp Exchange USA 2017 participant

“Travelling – it leaves you speechless, then makes you a storyteller” - Ibn Battuta

Hey! My name is Conor O’Rourke, I’m 21 and from Wiltshire, England. I am currently studying Sport Development at Cardiff Metropolitan University in my third year! This is the story of my summer adventure working at Camp Vega in Fayette, Maine.

Camp sunset
Echo Lake at sundown – a spectacular sunset was just part of the schedule at Vega

Six months on from my summer adventure and I am still sharing my stories with anyone who will listen! I’m thrilled that I get to tell some more in this blog! It all started by making a decision, a decision that I nearly didn’t make but a decision that I would now make over and over again.

Picture this: It’s a cold and wet Thursday in January. I was still at home with my family for Christmas but had a lot of work for University. For the past few weeks, my mum had been trying to get me to sign up to the BUNAC Summer Camp USA program. At first, I refused to even look at the website! I didn’t think I was ready to commit to a whole summer away from friends and family. It was a risk in my eyes and I was sure that it wasn’t for me. But I decided to take a look at the BUNAC website and I found a list of Camps that would be present at the recruitment fair in London. For 6 years I had been working at my local tennis club back home in Wiltshire. I started playing tennis at the age of eight and fell in love with the sport, I couldn’t stop the urge to be out on the court! It was no surprise then, that when I was offered a volunteering role by the Head Coach at the club I immediately accepted!

Three years into my coaching role at the club I had completed my Level 1 and 2 Lawn Tennis Association Coaching qualifications. This meant that I could take control of my own sessions, which included planning and coaching three to four sessions per week. This was amazing experience but taking my coaching philosophy stateside would be just unbelievable! Looking on the website, I was happy to see so many tennis positions available! I scrolled down the list and found Camp Vega. Instantly, I clicked on the link and it took me to their homepage, I was greeted with: “Be prepared to have the best summer of your life”. I then watched their promotional video and that was it, my heart was set on Vega. Ten minutes later and I was doing my research and preparing my application for the recruitment fair.

Camp Vega
The gates to my summer home – I’d leave here a more complete person

From a young age I had always dreamed of travelling to America. My dad definitely influenced me from early on. We used to love watching Westerns when I was a kid, ‘How the West Was Won’ with John Wayne was our favourite! The ambition to travel stateside was always there, although I was slightly disappointed to see that there were no ‘Cowboy Ranch Camps’ available like there were in the movies! That being said, I will never forget the feeling of leaving the recruitment fair with a job at Camp Vega! I wore the biggest smile for the rest of the day and I could not wait to fly out to America!

I will never forget the day I arrived at camp. Having watched the Vega videos at least 16 times I thought I knew what to expect. I was way off. The lake was so much clearer, the trees were taller and the road was much bumpier than I imagined! When travelling down that stunning lakeside road, never did I think that I would leave here a different person: more complete, more confident, more of the person I wanted to be. From the beginning we were made to feel so welcome, smiling seemed to be a part of the uniform here. You couldn’t help but smile, it was infectious! The campgrounds must have had something to do with it because they were just spectacular. Situated on Echo Lake, Camp Vega had it all! Waking up to the spectacular sunrise and going to sleep under the glistening stars, it became part of the daily routine. A daily routine that I love and miss so much!

The view from the Vega shoreline over Echo Lake

 My job role at Camp Vega was with the tennis team. Being a part-time coach back at home, I had plenty of experience going into the summer, but one of the things that I was most looking forward too was the opportunity to work with coaches from across the world with different cultures, languages and coaching philosophies! It was a challenge that I was so ready to tackle. Luckily for me, Camp Vega has a large International field of staff. For example, the tennis team was made up of staff from Mexico, Brazil, Chile, The Netherlands, America and Ireland! So it’s safe to say that I had an amazing opportunity to work and develop my coaching with the help of everyone’s personal experiences from their cultures. Being able to work with these people who are now my friends is also a great networking opportunity! I am still in contact with a lot of the team and we are able to keep up with each other’s achievements throughout the year!

Manitou Roommates
Manitou Left Roommates

Participating on the Camp Exchange USA Program has given me so many opportunities that I am so grateful for. My time at Vega was only 59 days. 59 days, that’s all I got, in the most beautiful place in the world. But in those days I was swimming in Echo Lake, tanning on the tennis courts and stargazing under the most spectacular stars I have ever seen! All those memories wouldn’t be the same without the people I spent them with. I made friends this summer that I will keep forever. With these friends, the miles between us don’t matter, we have a special bond, a bond that can’t be broken. We were all opposites, our upbringings, beliefs and accents were different. Yet, one thing brought us together, Vega. We all spent every day together and on days off we went on new adventures, we were free! I will always be thankful for their friendship and I will hold it close to my heart forever.

Postcard memories
 “Postcard memories only picture of how you are in one place at a time” (Drew Holcomb)

 I fell in love with America, the people, the way of life and the endless exposure to so many different cultures. Maine will forever be a haven for me, the crystal lakes, green pines and lobster roles, it was all part of my summer experience! Without the Camp Exchange USA program, my summer adventure just wouldn’t be possible! This program has allowed me to meet my friends from all over the world. Camps like Vega depend on staff from all over the world to make up their culturally diverse staff. Believe me, I am so grateful for the opportunity I have had to work abroad, I have gained many work and life skills from my experience. But perhaps more importantly, I have had a more personal reflection. I am more confident that I can approach any new challenge knowing that a positive outcome is always possible and that meeting new people is a privilege and any opportunity to do so should be taken because each person can offer something unique that will most likely change you for the better. Without this program, I wouldn’t have been exposed to this “extraordinary world”. I hope that all the opportunities that this program can currently offer will continue because it’s changed my life for the better and it will continue to do so for thousands of people like me.

When I arrived back home, I contacted BUNAC to share my amazing summer with them! I was asked to attend a Camp Fair in Cardiff to share my summer experiences with potential Summer Camp USA applicants! I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to speak to people who were in my shoes this year, being able to share my summer experiences with them was an amazing opportunity. Being an applicant, you want to be told that taking that risk of travelling to a different place, new cultures, different languages and new people is the right decision for you. At the end of the day it’s up to you. It’s your decision, it’s your summer it’s your lifetime memories! Believe me, take that decision for yourself because it’ll be the best decision you ever make. The countdown is on to return and I cannot wait to carry more stories with me back home!

“It’s goodnight and not goodbye”

Ryan's Amazing Adventures in America: Part II

By Ryan O'Leary, CIEE Work & Travel USA 2015 and CIEE Graduate Visa 2016

Click here for Part I of Ryan's story.

During those twelve months post-Cape Cod, I couldn’t get America out of my head. I felt like I belonged there: it just felt right. Before continuing my amazing American adventures, I had the small matter of final year exams to take care of. And thanks to numerous caffeine-fuelled study sessions, exams were conquered. I spent the summer of 2016 working in a local bank and considering my next move. After weighing up the possibilities, I made the decision in August 2016 to pursue the J1 Graduate Visa USA.

After multiple farewells, on October 30, 2016 I waved goodbye to Ireland and readied myself for The City That Never Sleeps: New York City.

Times Square on Election Night 2016
Times Square, New York City, on Election night 2016

Now, you might wonder why someone from a rural area of under 1,000 people would want to move to New York, a city of over eight million people to boot.

 That’s precisely why I wanted to move to New York! It’s a melting pot of culture, creativity, and dreams as lofty as its buildings. I wanted to experience a new environment and challenge myself both personally and professionally. I moved there by myself so yes, I was definitely all in.

Is New York all that it’s cracked up to be? Yes, all that and more.

Of course there’s speed bumps along the way: adapting to the cost of living, job possibilities that don’t pan out, unexpected snowstorms and subway problems. But hey, it’s a price many are willing to pay!

After extensive networking and perseverance, I got a job on the content marketing team at Sprinklr, a B2B tech start-up that offers enterprise-level clients a social platform for managing customer experiences at scale. I was very fortunate to get such an opportunity, but such are the opportunities in New York.

Ryan hard at work  Sprinklr HQ  May 2017
Ryan hard at work at the Sprinklr headquarters, May 2017

Working at a tech start-up was quite an eye opener. The day-to-day was hectic but great. My job was a mix of writing, researching and reporting, often unpredictable but always interesting. I was involved in great projects and also brought my own ideas to the table. Plus, having my work endorsed by brands like the New York Stock Exchange was quite nice!

Outside of work, there was plenty of play. I spent my early weeks in the city devouring unbelievable brunches, strolling the Brooklyn Bridge, participating in an Irish takeover of Madison Square Garden for Conor McGregor’s UFC title triumph, and paying my respects at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.

I witnessed the soon-to-be Super Bowl champion New England Patriots defeat the New York Jets at the MetLife Stadium. Don’t be envious of my position in the nosebleeds: it was freezing!

New England Patriots at New York Jets  MetLife Stadium  November 2016
New England Patriots play the New York Jets, MetLife Stadium, November 2016

I saw New York from an unique perspective thanks to a company social outing on jet skis. Did someone say Hitch?

New York Harbor Jet Ski  May 2017
New York Harbor jetski, May 2017

Oh and I became a Global Citizen for a day in late September, enjoying the music of artists like The Killers and Stevie Wonder at the always glorious Central Park.

Global Citizen Festival 2017  Central Park
Global Citizen Festival 2017, Central Park, New York

New York offers endless possibilities both personally and professionally. I experienced incredible things and met many wonderful people. Everyone I met made me feel so welcome in the United States, no matter what part I was in or whether I was at work or at play.

This also rang true in other parts of the country. It goes without saying that the United States is absolutely massive. Ahead of the move, I thought of adventures to California and New Orleans and a host of other places. In reality, I upped my states visited tally to a respectable 8 (Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Virginia, Connecticut...and Washington D.C.)

A last-minute solo trip to Washington D.C. for Memorial Day weekend was excellent. Three days was nowhere near enough time to see the plethora of great museums and monuments. I did catch the Air & Space Museum and the Newseum (highly recommended), as well as a stroll across the bridge to the National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. As for nightlife, Adams Morgan has everything you need and more.

U.S. Capitol  May 2017
U.S. Capitol, May 2017

Summer vacation brought me to Chicago, truly one of my favorite cities so far. Weather? Ideal. Things to do? Plenty. Deep dish pizza? Perfection.

Yours truly enjoying the Chicago River  August 2017
Ryan enjoying the Chicago River, August 2017

And after bidding a bittersweet farewell to my many pals in New York, I paid one last visit to my Boston cousins before flying home from Providence, RI in mid-November.

Visiting cousins in Boston for Christmas 2016
Ryan celebrating the holidays with his Boston cousins

I’ve had a few months at home to process my time in America and write about it extensively. But words alone don’t do it justice. My memories from America are as valuable as anything I’ve ever written.

Cape Cod was an enjoyable starter, New York was an irresistible main course. I feel like Cape Cod was an audition of sorts for my compatibility with America. Evidently, I aced that audition.

Five years ago, I couldn’t have imagined in a million years how things would pan out. There was a time when I thought I’d never even leave Ireland! But circumstances change and people change: combine those variables with our wonderful world and you’ve got a winning formula.

My experiences in the United States so far have been magnificent, and I’m craving more. Would I recommend the Work & Travel USA or the J1 Graduate Visa USA program? Absolutely. In fact, because they’re so different, I recommend doing both. You won’t regret it.

Ryan's Amazing Adventures in America, Part I

By Ryan O'Leary, CIEE Work & Travel USA 2015 and Graduate Visa USA 2016

Check back next week for Part II of Ryan's story!

Hi there, my name is Ryan O’Leary. I’m from a small rural area named Barryroe in West Cork, Ireland. I spent the summer of 2015 working in Hyannis, Massachusetts on the CIEE Work & Travel USA program. I graduated from University College Cork in 2016 with a Bachelor's degree in Commerce (International) with Hispanic Studies. After completing my studies, I moved to New York City in October 2016 on the J1 Graduate Visa USA program. I worked on the content marketing team at Sprinklr, a New York-based tech start-up.

I moved back to Ireland in November 2017 and, at time of writing, I work as a freelance writer, creating content for Sprinklr and EazyCity, a Cork-based company that offers work and study abroad programs across the world.

Damien  Joseph  Michael and Ryan on Damien's wedding day in March 2016
Ryan (far right) with his brothers Damien, Joseph, and Michael (l-r) at Damien's wedding in West Cork, Ireland

My American adventures of the last few years drew inspiration from my other travels. As part of my college degree, I was required to spend the 2014/15 academic year studying abroad at a university in Spain or Mexico. I chose the University of Alicante in southeastern Spain, and a group of us moved there in late August 2014.

Although I had enjoyed two previous vacations in Spain with friends, this was my first time spending a long period of time abroad. Midway through the year it hit me: I loved seeing new parts of the world. Living abroad for the first time was inspirational.

Growing up in Ireland, especially in the countryside, certain places seem so far away. You get used to your own area and only once you step outside it or go to college do things change. I saw the change in two of my brothers when they visited Boston, Hawaii and New York in the summer of 2008. Upon return they weren’t too different, but I sensed an increased open mindedness. The way they talked joyously about their trip piqued my interest in the United States

The views of home
Ryan's home in Barryroe, Ireland

I had spoken to a number of people over the years who had lived and worked in the US, and they absolutely loved their time there. Plus, like any proper Irish person, I had cousins in Boston! So in early 2015 a group of us made the decision to book our spots on the CIEE Work & Travel USA program. Our destination? After much deliberation, we decided on Cape Cod.

Welcome to Hyannis  July 2015
Hyannis, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

I arrived on Cape Cod on the 4th of July. And it was quite a way to kick off my American adventure: we enjoyed Independence Day fireworks at a nearby beach. The adventure had officially begun.

We had a great time working with local Americans, meeting different people from across the States every day and immersing ourselves in the culture. However, we also had lots of time to play and relax.

Pufferbellies was the local nightclub, hosting Irish nights on Wednesdays. Other than that, we enjoyed a few drinks at local bars like emBargo, Kelly’s on Main, and Torino. And thanks to perfect weather, a few BBQs were also in order throughout the summer. Food-wise we were absolutely spoiled for choice. For its buffalo chicken sandwich alone, DJ’s was one of our favourites. Other than that, there was The Daily Paper for breakfast, Rendezvous Cafe for brunch, and British Beer Company for an unreal dinner. For dessert, there was only one destination: Ben & Jerry’s.

When we weren’t busy working and socializing, we were beaching. Thanks to sensational summertime weather, the beaches were glistening and glorious.

Surfside Beach  Nantucket  July 2015
Surfside Beach, Nantucket

I also paid a first visit to my cousins in West Roxbury, Boston in mid-August. They showed me the finest of Boston and Newport, RI. Upon return to Cape Cod, it was almost time to leave.

Looking back on it, my final destination that summer seems like an omen now. That last destination was New York City. I spent two days and three nights in the Big Apple before flying home, visiting sights such as Central Park, Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall and the Top of the Rockefeller Center. It was a fitting final weekend in America before flying home in late August.

Central Park  November 2016
Central Park, New York

I get nostalgic anytime I talk about my summer in Cape Cod. It seems so long ago now, coming up on three years this summer. It was my first taste of the United States and I very much enjoyed it. From the moment I set foot in the States, I had a good feeling. The locals were great to us. And although Cape Cod took on the moniker of “Cape Cork” due to the sheer volume of Irish folks there, we made many American friends through work and socializing. Some had been to Ireland before and were only delighted to sing its praises. Others have not made the trip across the Atlantic yet but our words of encouragement alone may be enough to book flights!

Being Irish definitely helps on the East Coast, but we were welcomed with open arms and made to feel at home. It was everything I imagined it would be, and then some. As you’ll soon see, it left me wanting much more.

Camp Takajo: Cristian's Life-Changing Summer Facing His Fears

By Cristian Cartenas Montes, 2015, 2016, and 2017 CIEE Camp Exchange USA Participant from Mexico. Check back next week to read Part II of Cristian's story!

Imagine waking up every single morning in a wood cabin surrounded by nature with the most cliché bugle call that can exist in your mind, surrounded by 9 kids full of energy waiting for you to start a new summer camp day with them. Everything seems perfect for these little guys, up until 8:00 AM, when they suddenly realize there’s a huge problem between them and their summertime life-goals: they don't feel like making their beds. This is where your day starts.

Cristian tennis
Cristian on the tennis courts at Camp Takajo

My name is Cristian Cardenas, I’m a Mexican mechanical engineering student and a three-time former camp counselor, and today I want to share with you how being a camp counselor has written a brief but very significant paragraph in the story of my life.

The Call

+1 (207) xxx - xxxx

"Hi, Cristian Cardenas? This is Bob Lewis from Camp Takajo..."

I remember this day perfectly. I was in arts class during the second semester of college when my phone rang. It was a weird number. It started with a +1; I felt like it was going to be another spam call offering me a service or debit card which I would later reject. I was about to hang up when I suddenly remembered that I had applied to work at a summer camp in the U.S. some weeks before. So, I went out of the classroom and answered my first ever English-speaking formal phone call. The first thing I heard was "hi, Cristian Cardenas? This is Bob Lewis from Camp Takajo…"

That was the first time I talked with Bob. On the phone, he seemed to be a nice guy with a strong voice. He told me that he had seen my profile in the CIEE applicant pool and liked it, and that he would like to have me as a tennis counselor at a boys’ summer camp in the state of Maine, called Camp Takajo. We talked for about 45 more minutes, and then I couldn’t believe that I had an offer that gave me the opportunity to spend my summer in the U.S. doing one of the things I’ve always loved: playing tennis. So I bought my single passenger flights to Boston, MA, and in the first week of June 2015, I was leaving Guadalajara for what I didn’t yet know was going to be one of the best experiences of my life.

Sunset from Camp Takajo

The Journey

What was my job going to be like? What was going to be my daily schedule? Who was I going to work and live with? How professional did I have to be at tennis to be a camp counselor? These were only some of the thousand questions that I had on my mind during the flight from Mexico to the U.S. At the beginning, I can’t deny that I was nervous about all these things, but then at some point I decided it was better to relax and just let things flow.

After some long hours, my flight finally landed. I was going to be in Boston for a day before my bus left for Maine the next morning. I remember spending the day walking the streets of Boston. At the beginning, I remember that I was afraid—after all, it was the first time I had traveled by myself to a city to which I’d never been before. I walked, and didn’t know where I was going, or what was I going to find, and this scared me at the beginning. But it didn’t take more than 2 hours for me to discover that I was enjoying it, that the feeling of independence, and liberty started making me feel happy.

The next day I woke up, had a quick breakfast, and took the bus to Maine. I was excited: the day had finally arrived, and I was going get to know the place I’d been thinking of for the last months. I was anxious, but at the same time excited. Finally, after about 5 or 6 hours, I saw that we were in Naples, Maine, and after some minutes I noticed a sign on the road and I knew I had finally arrived.

Takajo Sign
The entrance to Camp Takajo

The Arrival

I remember arriving at camp for the first time. It was a big place, but there seemed to be very few people there at the time. The first person I was looking for was Bob Lewis. It was not very hard for me to find him: when I entered the camp’s office, he welcomed me and introduced me to all the camp directors that were present. After all those days travelling by myself, I felt happy finally getting to know this place and people. Bob also introduced me to the camp’s staff members, and gave me a brief talk on what to expect the next days in camp and how was this going to change when the kids arrived. He also told me that I already had a cabin assigned for me to sleep. After this brief meeting, I went to find my new place in that cabin.


“Bunk Passaconaway.” That was the name of the cabin that I was supposed to find. I could see that there was a set of bunks around the forest with different names. Yosemite, Chichenitza, Ixtacciuatl, Rappahanock, and finally I saw a big bunk almost at the end of the quad that had a plate on it that said Passaconaway. I entered the bunk, carrying my gigantic bag with all my stuff and tennis rackets. When I entered, I found that there were people inside, so I introduced myself, saying that I was Cristian from Mexico, and that I was coming as a tennis counselor. Later on, I discovered that everybody in that bunk was also a tennis counselor. I met two guys from Argentina, who were happy to see that somebody else spoke Spanish, one guy from Ireland that had come to the U.S. for the first time in his life, a tall guy from England with a deep voice and red hair, and the twenty-year-old number 1 French tennis player from Paris, Stephan Bimboum. Meeting these guys was interesting—they all seemed to be like me. Some of them were travelling by themselves to a foreign country for the first time. We spent the first days of camp together and it didn't take long for us to start becoming closer to each other in the days of work.

Cristian and J1 coaches
Cristian and his fellow J-1 Camp Counselors

It took some time for the kids to arrive. It was about one and a half weeks of hard work and preparation for the four hundred and something kids that were going to come in the next days. We as staff received a lot of talks on how to treat kids, how to listen them, how to protect them from dangerous situations, and many other things. We had also received all of their summer belongings and prepared them for the campers’ arrival.

I remember that day, everybody at camp woke up early and waited for the first buses loaded with children from different states all over the country to arrive. The first bus came in, everybody was excited, and Jeff (the camp’s owner) received them very excitedly and welcomed them. When he opened the buses’ doors, kids started running out of them with big smiles on their faces, yelling to their friends. Hugs and smiles were present everywhere and the place started to look very different. The first week it was a big land, with a lot of sports courts and fields, but it only hosted around 100 people. Now, the place seemed to be waking up. Kids were running all over the fields, others were playing with balls and rackets in the courts. The empty bunks that had been quiet for the last ten months started to have some occupants. Some of the veteran counselors had warned me previously that my perspective of camp was going to change completely the day the kids arrived, and I discovered that was very true. That day, everything became different.

Camp Season’s Open!

I’ve described how I lived my experience of camp, since the pre-camp period and all the things I went through before getting there, until the actual beginning of my days at camp. I believe that camp is a life-changing experience, and to understand it, one has to live it. I remember when I was going to go to camp for the first time, I was anxious to know every single detail of what my summer would be like. But when I finally had the opportunity to live it, I discovered that there are things that one must live in order to understand, and that an experience tells one more than thousands of words. I could tell you every single detail of my camp days, all the experiences I lived, the knowledge I gained, the friends I made, and the places I travelled, but I believe that it is a much more enjoyable experience if you live it without knowing what to expect every new day. I lived this experience without asking much, and I can tell you right now, after being a camp counselor for three years, it has definitely been one of the best experiences in my life.

Picnic Tables
Picnic tables at Camp

I also wrote this the way I did, without talking a lot about the rest of my summer, because I think experiences have a very important part: their beginnings. Sometimes we’re afraid to make decisions in life situations. Situations like traveling by ourselves, living in a culture different from ours, leaving home for a long time, or being open to new experiences. This fear is normal, and every human being has it; it's in our blood. I want to encourage you to overcome these fears. Accept that dream job, leave your home for a summer, talk to someone that doesn’t understand your native language, try new food, try that sport you’ve always thought you sucked at, travel to places you’ve never been before with a backpack and little money.

Don’t be afraid to make new friends, never stop trying new things. I want to say that doing this was what made my three summers at camp different from all the other summers of my life. Opening myself like this to the world allowed me to learn things I can’t describe, to make friends in different countries, to travel to places all over the U.S., and to live an experience that changed my life. Living experiences like this feeds your soul, opens your mind, and makes you a different person. I hope reading this helped you with some questions about what being a camp counselor is like—at least for the first part of the experience—but, trust me, you can read hundreds of different stories, watch videos on the internet, and see counselors’ pictures, but you’ll never understand what being a camp counselor is like until you live it. So don't hesitate and go for it, live a dream job for the summer that will change your perspective on the world forever.

Katahdin sign
Cristian at the summit of Mount Katahdin, the tallest peak in the state of Maine


Our Commitment to Program Diversity

CIEE is committed to providing camps with diverse participants who have the skills and experience necessary to contribute positively to your community. This summer, we sponsored participants from 52 different countries. This includes first ever placements from Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, The Philippines, Costa Rica, and Lesotho. Maintaining a diverse pool of candidates is an integral part of our program and we pledge to continue seeking new markets to ensure access to educational and cultural exchange for all.

Camp Exchange USA Global Outreach Map as of April 2017.
Camp Exchange USA Global Outreach Map as of April 2017.

 Agent Forum Recap

This September, CIEE hosted our annual Agent Forum for Work Exchange Programs at our global headquarters in Portland, Maine. Representatives from over 50 partner agencies from across the globe joined CIEE staff for three days of meetings, presentations, and fun to kick off the 2018 work exchange season. The Camp Exchange team loved sharing our insights about the magic that is summer camp. We also loved sharing expertise about the placement and application process, as well as hosting the camp Q&A towards the end of the forum. We look forward to working with everyone who attended! In the meantime, check out some photos below!

Camp Placement Coordinator Tyler Brookings (far left) lunches with Temitope Bada and Elizabeth Bada from Besor Associates (based in Nigeria).
Camp Placement Coordinator Tyler Brookings (far left) lunches with Temitope Bada and Elizabeth Bada from Besor Associates (based in Nigeria).


 Manager of Camp Relations Ryan Pelletier (left) and Adam Janaway (right) from BUNAC (based in the UK) take a ferry ride to Peak’s Island, off the coast of Maine.
Manager of Camp Relations Ryan Pelletier (left) and Adam Janaway (right) from BUNAC (based in the UK) take a ferry ride to Peak’s Island, off the coast of Maine.

Placement Coordinator Julia Elliott (3rd from right) runs a breakaway session explaining camp types. She is joined by representatives from New Zealand, Argentina, South Africa, Thailand, Costa Rica, Jordan, the UK, and Jamaica.

Placement Coordinator Julia Elliott (3rd from right) runs a breakaway session explaining camp types. She is joined by representatives from New Zealand, Argentina, South Africa, Thailand, Costa Rica, Jordan, the UK, and Jamaica.

Share Your Summer Photos and Stories With Us!

At CIEE, we have seen firsthand the powerful and transformational experiences your camp provides to our participants. Our ability to share photos and stories about these experiences with a larger audience, including the U.S. Department of State, is instrumental in both documenting the impact of our program and advocating for its continuance.

What is your favorite activity at camp? Which CIEE counselor will you miss the most? Where is the best view at camp? Share your Camp Exchange USA experiences by tagging us in your social posts! Find us online at Instagram (@ciee_camp) or Facebook (@campexchangeusa). We’ll even share our favorite posts on our social pages!

Camps Join CIEE’s Annual Employer Forum in D.C.

Four summer camps joined many of CIEE’s Summer Work & Travel employers at our 16th annual Employer Forum in early October. Michelle Gottlieb, Camping Department Manager at the Fresh Air Fund (NY), Jeff Gleason, CEO/Director of the YMCA of Maine (ME), Eugene Bell, Senior Director at Summit Camp (PA), and Scott Brody, Owner/Director of Camps Kenwood +Evergreen attended a congressional learning session hosted by Senator Angus King (ME). Scott is also the chair of Government Affair Committees for the American Camp Association and was the panelist that represented camps during the session. Michelle, Jeff, Eugene, and Scott also visited the offices of their state representatives to advocate for the J-1 program.

We are staying strong in our push for advocacy efforts to #savej1 and to ensure cultural exchange for all! Keep an eye on your inbox for future updates and ways to get involved!

CIEE’s CEO, Jim Pellow (far left)Executive VP, International Exchange Program, Meghann Curtis (2nd from left) and Vice President, Work Exchange Programs, Phil Simon (far right)  join Jeff Gleason, CEO/Director YMCA Camp of Maine (2nd from right) and Senator Angus King(center right) in dialogue prior to the congressional learning session on J-1 programs in the Russell Senate building.
CIEE’s CEO, Jim Pellow (far left)Executive VP, International Exchange Program, Meghann Curtis (2nd from left) and Vice President, Work Exchange Programs, Phil Simon (far right)  join Jeff Gleason, CEO/Director YMCA Camp of Maine (2nd from right) and Senator Angus King(center right) in dialogue prior to the congressional learning session on J-1 programs in the Russell Senate building.

The Summer at Camp that Stole Marie's Heart

Marie Salova spent this past summer as a counselor in the CIEE Camp Exchange USA program. When she returned to her home in Ireland she wrote us a beautiful thank you note sharing her experience. This is Marie's story.

I am writing to thank you for making this summer one of the best ones of my life. I made more memories and friends than I can even count. I just wanted to share a little bit of my experience with you all.

This summer I was working at Camp Pinecliffe in their Arts and Craft Department. I was hired at the first CIEE hiring fair in Dublin in the very first session, admittedly knowing very little about what was to come. I went through all the orientation procedures and decided on some dates for my flights and finally got my health check done. As the date of departure was arriving, a fellow counselor set up a Facebook group chat for us where we shared all our concerns and goals for the summer to come. We met at the airport by the gates. We joked about the summer ahead. Once in Boston we met Annie, a CIEE representative. She was telling us not to be nervous or scared but by this point none of us were any more, we were all eager to get to camp and start the summer of a lifetime. We explored Boston that night with some serious jet lag. 

Marie 2

Once at Pinecliffe, we worked with an amazing group of both staff and campers. The eight weeks to follow were filled with laughter and enjoyment. The work at camp never felt like a job. This year was Camp Pinecliffe’s 100th anniversary. The summer was filled with all sorts of special events, trips and shows. So much happened during the summer that I could not tell you about it if I had another 100 years.

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Each day was special, each week had its own mood. We sang song by the camp fire, we took a trip to Canada, we ate lobster for Pinecliffe’s birthday, we held sports events and socials, we worked with people from all over the world, we went to the funfair and we survived visiting day and alumni weekend. We had the most amazing view every morning and the best days off. We ate good food and enjoyed milk and cookies every night. The traditions at this camp will stay with me forever.

Marie 1

As camp drew to a close, they hosted a banquet. Hundred Acre Wood was the theme for the night, the girls spoke about their summers at camp, their memories and friends, their traditions and bunks. Spending the summer working with the eldest age group made this last night especially difficult as they knew their summers at Camp Pinecliffe had come to an end. In the dark, we were filling jars with things that capture the essence of Pinecliffe.  Later the girls sat in a circle and confessed their camp secrets over the last six to eight summers. They will forever be Pinecliffe girls. 


This photo was taken of the Irish staff prior to the final Banquet. We were dressed, like the girls, in all white. Wearing our special anniversary t-shirts. The amount of emotion that followed this photo is unbelievable and I would have never thought I would have something so special that makes saying goodbye so hard. Pinecliffe will forever hold a special place in my heart. 

All of this came before an unforgettable experience traveling along the east coast. For this experience I will forever be grateful and would do it again in a heartbeat. 

Thank you for all your hard work and commitment throughout the years, 

I will never forget all you have done.



Marie Salova

Camp Counselor, Summer 2017, from Ireland

A Summer to Remember: Bulgarian Student Experiences an American Summer Camp

By Ruzanna Sahakyan, CIEE Camp Exchange USA participant


My name is Ruzanna Sahakyan, I was born in Armenia but grew up in Bulgaria. I graduated from the National High School of Humanitarian Science and Arts and I am currently one state exam close to getting my bachelor’s degree in English and American studies. I live in the most beautiful city in Bulgaria - more precisely the sea capital, Varna - and right now I am doing my camp exchange program in the USA.

Visiting the USA has been one of my biggest dreams since I was 16 and now that I am in the USA it feels too surreal. Currently I live in Winthrop, ME where I am a counselor at the YMCA Camp of Maine. Camp comes to an end soon and my time in the USA is almost up. When I go back home my first priority will be to take my state exams and become an official bachelor’s graduate. Then I will start a job in order to save some money for yet another adventure. I will apply for a master’s degree in American studies in Bulgaria, however, I will spend the full academic year abroad as an Erasmus exchange student. Afterwards, when I am done with my job, master’s degree, and the exchange program, I will most likely enroll in some other type of exchange program. The thing I love the most about all those exchange programs is that a person gets to travel to different destinations without having to spend a lot of money.


I’m so grateful I got the chance to do my exchange program in the USA as it was one of the most affordable ways to come here, and I ended up having a great summer. I decided to be part of the CIEE Camp Exchange USA program for 2017 because, as I mentioned above, it has always been a dream of mine to visit the U.S. Also, I love traveling, I love teaching yoga and other sports and crafts, and now I know that I like working with kids as well. My responsibility at camp is to take care of the kids 24 hours, be their role model, their encouragement, their inspiration, and their teacher.

I have spent 1 month and 29 days at the YMCA Camp of Maine here at the Pine Tree state and I will have to leave this amazing place soon with a very heavy heart. One of the many interesting things about camp is that we have counselors, campers, and other staff members from all around the globe: Spain, Canada, China, UK, Ireland, Wales, Turkey, Italy, Poland, Russia, and Vietnam. I am very happy that the camp finally has Bulgarian and Armenian representatives. Not only do we have an amazing staff from different parts of the world, which makes the kids more open minded and enriches their culture, but also we have a very wide range of activities for the kids. Some of the activities include: Aqua Friendship Bracelet Making, Arts and Crafts Around the World, Mad Scientist, Improv, Lacrosse, Zumba, Yoga, Tennis, Ultimate Frisbee, Creature Catching, Challenge, etc. We make sure that our kids are never bored and that they will learn many new skills to show to their parents and friends.

School Bus Group Shot

I have heard many negative comments about the USA like that the kids are very spoiled, the nature has been wiped off from the face of the USA, the food is bad, and the people can be rude. Interestingly, I was glad to find out that all these things turned out to be so far from the truth. There are many factories and skyscrapers, indeed, but now I know from all the road trips that the nature here is incredibly rich and beautiful too. One can find spoiled kids almost everywhere and one thing is for sure - I didn’t meet any spoiled kids at camp! People in the U.S. are so gentle, kind, willing to help, and courteous. I was warned that the food here is mostly genetically modified, filled with sugars, carcinogenic ingredients and artificial coloring; these types of foods can be found in almost every place on the earth, not only in the U.S. Fortunately, here at camp, the people in charge make sure that the kids have access to healthy and nourishing foods and some treats for when they have a sweet tooth; the kitchen staff provides food for all the people who are vegetarian, vegan, gluten and lactose intolerant, allergic to certain nuts, and so on. In the end of the day, it was up to the kids whether they will reach for a fruit or go for the burgers, and we always encouraged them to drink water and have a few pieces of fruit.

I love everybody at camp because every single person is so kind and nice to the others. Not to mention how kind and sweet the directors and unit leaders, are which makes us feel all equal. Hands down, my most favorite people are Kim (aka the “Camp’s Mom”), Jeff Gleason’s wife, Lester who is the program director, and Natalie (aka “The Glitter Queen”) who is the arts and craft director. These people and everybody else made us, the counselors, feel at home away from home.

I have learned so many useful skills here at camp which I can easily put into use in my life; I learned skills which made me a better person. I have improved my communications skills, I have learned how to behave around children, how to be their role model and moral support, I have learned new skills and became more comfortable leading sport classes. I have experienced so many “first time” things like first time kayaking, making s'mores, eating Swedish Fish, being at a camp, seeing chipmunks, watching Netflix, etc. All these things combined made me more confident, which is something I have always lacked.

Closing Camp Fire-2

The past two months have been filled with so much laughter, positive energy, learning, dancing, singing, road trips, Game of Thrones nights with the staff members, camp fires, etc. I write this with a heavy heart because there is only one day left  until the end of camp. Camp has been a place for me to spend my days with no stress, anxiety, negative energy, drama, worries, and all the other things from the reality. I will definitely miss the YMCA Camp of Maine and now it has a huge spot in my heart. My exchange program here at the YMCA Camp of Maine means a lot to me as it taught me how to be more responsible, honest, caring and respectful- the four core values we teach the kids here at Ycamp.

My advice to those who are interested in coming to the U.S. on CIEE Camp Exchange USA is to decide which part of the U.S. they want to live in - west, east, south, etc. - and then decide on a camp. Once you know that you want to work on the East Coast, for example, then it is going to be easier to decide on a camp. Secondly, if you do end up choosing a camp on the East Coast but you are completely sure that you want to travel on the West Coast post-camp, then I highly recommend buying plane tickets in advance as it is going to save you some money. Thirdly, if you are a big train enthusiast, then you should definitely buy in advance one of Amtrak’s train journeys. In general: make sure to bring your laptop, have some extra cash on you, plan your post-camp trip in advance, install the Hostel World app on your mobile device, as well as the MapMe app, prepare some amazing camp appropriate songs, stories, jokes, dances, and more ahead of time, and you will be ready for a summer filled with positive energy, laughter, swimming, sports, dances, and travels.

Jamal's Summer at Camp: Part 2

Last summer Jamal Richardson, a student from St. Mary’s University in the UK, traveled to Pennsylvania to work as a camp counselor. We asked him to reflect on his experience at camp, and will be featuring several posts. See Part 1 here.

Describe some of your daily activities at camp.

The activities at camp vary quite a bit, mostly outdoorsy, having waterfront  activities such as  a banana boat, kayaks, canoes, rowboats, swimming, hiking, mountain biking, climbing, baseball, judo and a wide range of sports! As a Counsellor, you really engage in these activities as you do it with the kids. The moment they see you do it, they want to join in too!


The days usually have a very early start and a late finish, with all these activities being done, you’re so tired by the end of it but it is so fulfilling at the same time! As waterfront staff, or specialist staff, you are in charge of making these activities fun for the kids

What were some of your best memories from your time in the United States?

There was a boy who was so home sick – we worked hard to make him feel better, I taught him to swim, he went on banana boat rides, and his parents were so surprised how much he had changed in the 3 weeks! Then at the end they tell you they are excited to see you again next year, and that you have to come back and be with them again. Non-negotiable!


Also don’t forget! Once camp is over, the traveling kicks in! You get to travel America which will be your best holiday ever, you go around places with the friends you’ve made in America and make some unforgettable memories. In my case, I visited New York City, Washington D.C, and then did a roundtrip all the way down to south Carolina, and  made  my  way  back  up  again  through Tennessee!

Jamal's Summer at Camp: Part I

Last summer Jamal Richardson, a student from St. Mary’s University in the UK, traveled to Pennsylvania to participate in the CIEE Camp Exchange USA program. We asked him to reflect on his experience at camp, and will be featuring several posts. This story originally appeared on the IST Plus website.

Tell us about the start of your summer in the U.S.

The Orientation week is great fun at camp! At times it can be very nerve-wracking as you’re in somewhere completely new and you meet a whole load of new faces in a very short space of time. But the orientation week helps you find your footing and get to know all these wonderful faces and make friends very quickly, friends that you become very close to. The training itself is also very useful for working in a camp, having done both waterfront training and counselor training, it does help you prepare for the summer ahead. It also helps that orientation is done by previous counsellors, so they are well aware of how you are feeling prior to the kids arriving!

Jamal11 - counselors

The night before the kids arrive there are so many mixed emotions! This is the part that you have signed up for, but at the same time it can get you nervous because you’re hoping the kids will be nice as you will be with them all summer, as well as you hoping that you can make the summer unforgettable! However, once you see the excited kids, some who are new, some who have been to camp before, you realize how special camp is for the kids and that you really want to make this summer better for them than the last one. They will look up to you as a role model, copy what you do, how you talk, they will try to be like you in every way!

What was your camp like?

The Camp was located in the middle of nowhere. The location was amazing for that reason. The nearest town was a small town, with a few shops, a breakfast place, a bar and a Walmart. But that made it all the better. You were away from cities and home comforts for 9 weeks, and on days off the camp organizes you to go to different places to see places. So through the summer you can find yourself chilling by a river, or jumping off high rocks into lakes, both which are great fun.

The housing was exactly what you would think it would be from the movies, it is bunkbeds inside of cabins! The cabins during orientation are also extremely social as you live in them with a group of people your age. Once the kids come in and you start living with kids it’s also great fun, and not a major worry about not getting your beauty sleep.

The scenery is the most amazing part of camp also! Sunsets away from the city, where you can actually see the sunset is the most beautiful thing ever! Being able to look up at night and see so many stars is also something that made the camp amazing, since we were so far away from towering buildings and cities, there was absolutely no light pollution. Nothings more relaxing than being down the waterfront after work has finished and stargazing with your friends while chatting!