Cultural Exchange

InterExchange Camp USA is, first and foremost, a cultural exchange program. Participants travel a very long way to make new friends, learn about American culture and improve their English. As you welcome InterExchange Camp USA participants into your camp family, we ask that you stay focused on the purpose of the program and help participants to achieve these goals. We thank you for providing young people with this opportunity and offer the following suggestions to help maximize the positive impact of cultural exchange at your camp.

Helping Participants Gain a New Understanding of the USA

Cultural exchange occurs when people gain more in-depth understanding and knowledge about another country, its culture, its customs and its day-to-day practices through person-to-person contact. Our participants as well as our hosts embrace this aspect of InterExchange programs and understand its importance whether they’re part of a camp, a family, a seasonal business or a professional environment.

The United States is often described as a “melting pot” attracting people from countries all over the world. It is a culture that is continuously being reshaped and redefined as more people from other countries gain exposure to the country. It is also influenced by visitors who share their cultures during their time in the U.S., and by the deeper insights and favorable attitudes about American life they return to their home countries with.

InterExchange makes it a priority to give our participants and hosts resources to explore cultural learning opportunities together or independently. We’ve created an online guide to U.S. culture, including recommended sites and activities for everyone to enjoy during time spent in the U.S. We encourage everyone to discover new places and aspects of American culture, whether they’re visitors or natives!

The InterExchange Inside the USA guide also contains many helpful recommendations and resources.

Cultural Activities Toolkit for Host Employers

As a host employer with the InterExchange Camp USA program, you play an important role in helping our international participants learn about American culture and have a fantastic experience in the U.S. Encouraging participants to interact with Americans and experience our culture in their free time is an essential part of your role. Hosting your own cultural events and activities is often the best way to teach them about life in the U.S! To help you facilitate these fun cultural activities for your international staff, we’ve created the InterExchange Cultural Activities Toolkit. Below, we’ve outlined ideas for events and instructions on using the toolkit. Download the entire kit here. You’ll notice this Toolkit is designed with InterExchange Work & Travel USA host employers in mind. We think that summer camp can inherently be FULL of cultural exchange moments for our counselors – but the Toolkit can help you and your camp be more deliberate about ensuring your counselors are getting the best Cultural Exchange experience possible. You may even find ideas to incorporate into programming for your whole camp!

Also check out our Cultural Compass, a state-by-state guide to activities, culture and sites in the U.S., and share the link with your participants.

Below are some ideas for activities you can plan for your staff and ways to use the Toolkit:

Beginning of Season Events

Making sure your international participants have a warm welcome can be the key to a successful season. Remember, they’ve just arrived in a new country and don’t know anyone! Events at the beginning of the season can be as simple as gathering employees together for introductions or a name game. One idea to welcome your participants is an introductory reception.

Host a welcome reception for your international staff and introduce U.S. culture. Suggested materials: name tags, sign-in sheet, American culture speech balloon, icebreaker games, cultural bingo, flag frames, American culture trivia. Examples of each of these materials and games can be found in the above Toolkit.

Mid-Season Events

Throughout the summer, cultural events and outings are a great way to keep up enthusiasm and morale at your camp and to make sure participants are experiencing American culture. Participants may feel homesick at some point during the season, and facilitating fun activities can help remind them why they’re here.

Sporting event: Organize an outing to a local sporting event. Help explain the rules of the game if participants are unfamiliar. Suggested materials: Name tags, sign-in sheet, American culture speech balloon, baseball rules handout, “Take me out to the ballgame” (baseball only).

Food events: Host an American-style barbecue or picnic, or organize a potluck where students prepare their favorite dishes from their home countries. Suggested materials: Name tags, sign-in sheet, American culture speech balloon, recipe cards, ice breaker game, cultural Bingo, flag frames.

Attend a local holiday parade or festival: Suggested materials: Name tags, sign-in sheet, American culture speech balloon.

Celebrate an American holiday: Celebrate holidays like the Fourth of July or Thanksgiving to give participants unique insight into American culture. Picnics and potlucks work well for holiday celebrations. Suggested materials: Name tags, sign-in sheet, American culture speech balloon, recipe cards, icebreaker game, cultural Bingo.

Volunteer event: Get students together for a day or an hour of volunteering! Partner with a local volunteer organization for greater interaction with Americans. Suggested materials: name tags, sign-in sheet, American culture speech balloon.

End-of-Season Events

At the end of their work commitment, international participants are preparing to travel within the U.S. before returning home. Show your appreciation for their hard work during your busy season by hosting a going-away party!

Culture Shock—Helping Participants Adjust

Be aware of culture shock. Culture shock is described as the anxiety, feelings of frustration, alienation and anger that may occur when a person is placed in a new culture. Many of the customs here may seem odd or uncomfortably different from those of participants’ home countries. Being in a new and unfamiliar place can be challenging even for the experienced traveler, and some feelings of isolation and frustration are normal. It is important to acknowledge that not only are your participants likely experiencing American culture for the first time, but also they are new to the world of camp culture, which can be very different from what they know and are comfortable with back home. Participants experience culture shock to varying degrees; some hardly notice it at all, while others can find it very difficult to adapt to their new environment. Many may not attribute their problems to culture shock. Whatever the case may be, understanding these issues and why they happen will help.

Signs of Culture Shock

Common signs of culture shock may include:

  • Participants may feel isolated and frustrated. They may become nervous and/or excessively tired. They may sleep a lot, even after they have recovered from jet lag.
  • Participants may be excessively homesick. It is normal to miss home, family and friends; but if they can think of nothing else, call or email home all the time, or frequently seem depressed or cry, they are most likely suffering from culture shock. Normal, minor irritations may make an exchange visitor overly upset.
  • Participants may become dependent upon other staff members from their home country. These friendships are important and are extremely supportive. However, if they spend time exclusively with friends from their home country, they deny themselves the experience of interacting with people from the U.S. and other countries. 
  • Participants may have deep doubts about their decision to come to the U.S. There may be anxieties with work. A participant may wonder: “Why does my boss speak so loudly and quickly?” “Will I be able to repay my parents the money they lent me?” This stress can become overwhelming and cause tension.
  • They may feel reluctant to speak English or to associate with people.

Coping With Culture Shock

Almost all participants must cope with culture shock to some degree. We hope that you’ll be aware of this possibility and be able to help participants acclimate to living and adjusting to American customs. The following suggestions may help you in understanding and resolving any problems that arise:

  • Maintain your perspective. Although the participants are your employees, they will occasionally need advice or encouragement. Usually participants just need to know they have someone on their side to help boost their confidence while adapting to their new environment.
  • If a participant feels confused or disappointed, ask them what their expectations were. InterExchange Camp USA gives detailed descriptions during interviews to prepare participants for what to expect when they are in the U.S.
  • Keep an open mind and a sense of humor. People in the U.S. may do or say things that people in the participant’s home country would not do or say. Try to understand that the participant is acting according to his or her own set of values, and that these values are born of a culture different from yours.
  • Read our section on Culture Shock for more suggestions to help participants cope with the transition.