Homesickness And Acculturation Stress

The solution: Whenever possible, explain the various sights and sounds of the camp environment so it all feels less strange. Be sure international campers and staff have bug repellent, know how to recognize the calls and behavior of local wildlife (especially that of birds, such as owls and loons, whose cries fill the night air), and have the proper clothes and footwear for the environment.

4. Changes in governance structure or work environment.

The issue: It can be especially demanding for male campers and staff members from highly patriarchal societies to come to North America and take guidance from women in leadership positions. Nevertheless, this is part of the acculturation process and must be approached in a non-judgmental way.

The solution: Politely explain to male internationals who question women’s authority that countries in North America regard women’s authority equal to men’s. And while there still may be a glass ceiling in the corporate world, the human rights picture is clear. Show respect for all camp leaders, and let those unfamiliar with equal rights learn by watching.

5. Shifts in responsibilities and reputation.

The issue: At home, school, or in neighborhoods, people enjoy some predictability to their schedule, and are perceived a certain way by friends and relatives. That temporal, vocational, and relational stability anchors people psychologically. Immersion in a new environment, especially one with no established connections, ignites acculturation stress and homesickness.

The solution: Although it can be refreshing and inspiring to be in a new place, it can also be difficult to go from popular and connected to feeling marginalized. So, as much as international campers and staff members will relish the fresh start at camp, ask lots of questions about what they do when they are back at home. Showing a genuine interest in their educational, professional, and social accomplishments is usually comforting to international campers and staff.

6. Reduction in size of familiar peer group.

The issue: Unless international campers and staff are traveling with an entourage from home, their peer group instantly shrinks when they arrive at camp. Loneliness can invoke homesickness, so social connections must be engineered.

The solution: Perhaps no homesickness treatment is more effective than making new friends. Only engaging in a fun, physical activity might rival friendship as the No. 1 coping strategy young people rely on to diminish feelings of missing home. So, get international campers and staff involved in activities, learning names, and hanging out with native buddies right from day one.

7. Uncomfortable stereotypes of native country.

The issue: Anyone who has traveled knows how tiresome it becomes to be asked whether one is a cowboy (if from America), a shepherd (from New Zealand), a crocodile hunter (from Australia), a friend of Harry Potter (from England), or a mail-order bride (from Russia). Pop culture images rarely apply to average citizens, but when people assume they do, it makes one want to return home.

The solution: My recommendation to all campers and staff, regardless of country of origin, is to spend time getting to know individuals. Never plug an individual into a personal stereotype matrix. Even if one thinks a stereotype has a grain of truth (most do), a stereotype almost never indicates an individual person’s likes, dislikes, personality, dress, and mindset.

8. Unfulfilled expectations of North America.

The issue: Many international staff members have complained that the woods of New Hampshire (where I’ve played and worked for 32 summers) look nothing like Hollywood. Thank goodness. Indeed, the stark contrast between Hollywood and Lake Winnipesaukee is one of the main reasons I keep going back to one, and not the other, each summer.

The solution: Temper the disappointment of international campers and staff members by agreeing with their assessment of how different camp looks from any movie or television show they may have seen. Then, start teaching them as much as possible about the natural beauty, ecology, and people at camp. Should they be willing to risk massive disappointment, remind them that when the season is over, there may still be enough time and money for them to travel to Hollywood.

9. Unfulfilled expectations of North American camps.

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