Going global

Published 11:57 am Saturday, July 11, 2009

FRANKLIN – In today’s global society, business deals often involve dealing with people from all over the world. That can be tricky, given the intricacies of different cultures and prevalent stereotypes. However, area Lions Clubs are working to help bridge the cultural divides.

The District 24D Lions Clubs, which stretch from Boykins to the Eastern Shore to the Richmond area, are sponsoring 30 exchange students from 18 countries in the Middle East, Europe and South America to come and live together in the United States for a few weeks.

“The camp is built around trying to get them to work together and look at each other as just people,” said Jeff Jacobs, the district youth camp and exchange chairperson. Th e camp is one of about 30 across the nation.

There are 45,000 Lions Clubs worldwide. The campers compete with as many as 5,000 other young people to be selected for the exchange program. Jacobs said that they try to avoid more than two campers from the same country in a given year.

“We think that it’s the diversity of having the different countries actually adds to the camp,” he said.

The campers, who are all between the ages of 16 and 19, are first sent to live with a host family for three to four weeks, the campers are then housed in Boy Scout Cabins outside of Washington, D.C. and then at Virginia Wesleyan College in Norfolk during the two-week camp. Jacobs said that the campers don’t get too much downtime, but the living situation is helpful in the process.

“It begins getting them talking to each other and breaking down barriers,” Jacobs said. “They become a pretty good family unit. They don’t all like each other, but that’s not what they have to do.”

During the camp, the campers attend sporting events and visit a number of tourist attractions and museums, including the Holocaust Museum, which can lead to some difficult questions from campers. One camper asked why there wasn’t a memorial to Hiroshima, where the United States dropped an atomic bomb during World War II, like there is for the Holocaust.

“These kids are all told from day one, ‘if you have a question, ask it,’” Jacobs said.

The campers will have to make a presentation about their countries and participate in a talent show, which also helps build connections between the campers. Some form long-lasting friendships with other campers and host families.

“When you see a girl from Turkey and a girl from Austria and a girl from Poland all dancing together, you’ve got to stop and think OK they’ve had to communicate how to do it,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs said that his camp is one of the top camps in the country, thanks to all of the support of the members of the Lions Clubs in the district.

“It takes everybody in this district to make this camp work,” Jacobs said.

Henrike Bente, a 17-year-old camper from Germany said that the camp was a great experience.

“I think it’s great to meet people from all over the world and improve my English,” she said. “You can learn about different cultures from all around the world.”

Jacobs is convinced that among the campers are future leaders.

“They are going to be leaders of their countries, no doubt about it. They are very gifted,” he said. “But they are teenagers and they do get into trouble.”