YMCA Camp Spaulding hosts campers from Colombia

"I’m very much enjoying this camp experience. Everyone is very friendly and they make you feel like you’re at home. My parents are very happy and proud of me. It’s my first international trip."

Sergio, 15, a camper from YMCA Colombia

YMCA Camp Spaulding, operated by the YMCA of Greater Nashua, was selected as one of several YMCA camps from around the United States to host students from YMCA Colombia in early July.

YMCA Colombia partnered with the Colombian government’s Ministry of Education Bilingual Education Department to advance Colombian youths’ command of the English language, leadership skills and global cultural competence. The goal of the program in 2016 is to send 100 Colombian teenagers to camp for a full immersion in English experience, intercultural exposure and leadership development program.

Camp Spaulding is hosting 10 campers this year. Campers arrived at Camp Spaulding on June 26 and enrolled in the camp’s first session. The Colombian government is funding this initiative for its students, eight of whom are traveling out of their country for the first time.

Josh Schupack, Camp Spaulding director, is enthusiastic in his assessment of the partnership.

"It was incredible having campers from another country come to us at YMCA Camp Spaulding," he said. "Not only were campers improving their English skills, but they actively were
teaching our campers Spanish and about Colombian culture. It was just as enriching for our campers to interact with them as it was for them to interact with us."

Chaperoning the Colombian students is Daniel Enrique Hernandez Cruz, who majored in English and Spanish in his undergraduate studies and is currently a graduate student at Universidad Internacional de la Rioja, Spain, studying
e-learning and social media.

"So far I can tell you that this is the best way to learn a second language," he said. "This experience has been a great opportunity for the Colombian kids not only to learn, practice and meet new friends, but also to learn from another culture, open their minds, see the world in a wide way. Besides that, it has been a chance for us to let American kids and staff at camp know about our culture and exchange ideas, likes and thoughts and some other different things such as music, sports, food, et cetera.

"I will definitely recommend and promote back home this kind of projects. Count on us for further projects."

He added that students selected for this trip come from public schools where English is taught at a basic level.

"These students want to learn," Hernandez Cruz said. "They are very motivated."

As part of the agreement with the Colombian government’s Ministry of Education, Hernandez Cruz has been sending daily reports on the campers’ experiences. The government is using social media, including daily Twitter updates, to share the experiences from the campers.

Hernandez Cruz said it’s a competitive process for students to be selected to come to a YMCA camp. Students take national exams in ninth grade, and only the best students are considered for this international experience.

"It’s very prestigious for students to be selected to go to the United States," he said. "We take the best students who want to learn about U.S. culture and better their English language skills."

"All of the kids are friendly and talking to us like a family," said Leydi, a 5-year-old camper. "I’m very excited I’m improving my conversational skills, meeting new friends and learning the culture."

Alejandro, also 15, shared similar sentiments: "I love cabin life. Everyone is friendly. We talk about the highlights of the day in our cabin at night. It’s not lonely at night. I want to be with American people to help with my level of English."

Submitted by YMCA of Greater Nashua