Route J-1


Camp Brings People From Different Cultures Closer Together

Posted on Tuesday, January 16th, 2018 at 5:07 pm.

Katarína Bacigálová – Poláková, J-1 Camp Counselor Alumna from Slovakia

Camp Counselors at YMCA Camp Wood

Participating in the J-1 program was an amazing experience full of adventure, meaningful work, cultural enrichment and friendships that last a lifetime.

I had the opportunity to travel to the United States in 2000 and in 2002/2003. My experiences have contributed to my personal growth and professional development.

My first job was an intern exchange between Daphne – Institute for Applied Ecology, a nonprofit organization in Slovakia dealing with nature conservation and wetland ecosystems in Central Europe and Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio, which is part of the U.S. National Park Service System. I was attracted to the field instructor position because it included a personal growth area through an accredited study at Akron State University. Thanks to this program I have been studying in the field of natural sciences. During my work, I thoroughly evaluated and used my experience and knowledge from home, especially ecology of wetland ecosystems, and after returning home, I have transferred many experiences from the Cuyahoga Valley to teaching ecology programs for children in Slovakia. As a result of my fieldwork experience, I participated in the development of various excursions for elementary schools focused on geology, paleontology and wildlife of the region.

Katarína teaching geology class at YMCA Camp Greenville

My second job was as an intern instructor of environmental education and Project Youth Instructor at YMCA Camp Greenville in North Carolina. I wanted to experience similar work in other natural conditions. I wanted to experience the spirit of YMCA – using principles of youth development, healthy living and social responsibility to build strong kids, strong families and strong communities. My exchange experience gave me the opportunity to engage with local communities and see how an organization can create life changing experiences for young people.

Mud Hike Fun at YMCA Camp Wood

I’ve continued teaching environmental education and, moreover, have had the opportunity to participate on Project Youth – a school program focused on problem solving skills, interpersonal skills and self-confidence using very unique tools of challenging adventures and team building courses. It was the first time I had the opportunity to work with tools like rope course, group dynamics, teambuilding activities, climbing, and use them to form young people in core values of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility.

Katarína teaching art class at YMCA Camp Wood

I served as a camp counselor at YMCA Camp Wood during my last J-1 program in the United States. For one year I have had the opportunity to work on a multinational team. It was comprised of Americans, Canadians, Russians, Singaporeans, Senegalese, Malaysians and Slovakians. I worked as an Arts and Crafts Director during a summer camp in this very special place in Elmdale, Kansas. I have benefited from my artistic skills and creativity (I have studied architecture and still work in this area) and it was an opportunity to use my experience with pottery, creating art from natural materials and blending ecology and art to young campers. We all had the opportunity to share something from our culture – food, music, songs, stories – with children and each other during the summer camp. Altogether we created something beautiful that would never come to be without sharing our different origins.

Katarína with kids at YMCA Camp Wood

TheJ-1 intern program is an amazing tool that brings people from different cultures closer, creates friendships across the globe, and builds the understanding of other culture through a shared experience.

Categories: Program Spotlight

About G. Kevin Saba

Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange


G. Kevin Saba serves as Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange at the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). In this capacity, he oversees the Exchange Visitor Program, which brings around 300,000 foreign citizens to the United States annually to teach, study, and build skills. He is the Director for the Policy and Program Support Division in ECA’s Office of Private Sector Exchange.

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