Camping in Russia

Serving as a summer camp counselor is a common experience for many college students, yet for three recreation and leisure studies majors in UGA’s College of Education the experience was anything but ordinary.
As participants in UGA’s first study abroad program to Russia, John Paul McNeal of Marietta, Ashley Jackson of Crawfordville, and Jenna Sutheimer of Chamblee, served as English language and culture counselors at two Russian youth camps this summer. They attended a class developed by Gwynn Powell, an assistant professor of recreation and leisure studies in the College of Education’s department of counseling and human development services.

The UGA students and their professor left for the Republic of Mari-El in Russia in mid-June and spent the next five weeks working with Russian children at either Camp Forest Fairytale or Camp Cooperator. The students also assisted Russian camp directors in developing experiences that the camps provided their campers.

“With the fall of communism, the Pioneer Youth Camp structure in the former Soviet Union was displaced. There was rapid conversion of state-run summer camps to private and corporate ownership,” said Powell. “The summer camps have continued to operate, but at varying levels of quality and with a challenge to find a new purpose and program focus.”

Powell collaborated with Camp Counselor USA (CCUSA) and Camp Counselor Russia (CCRussia) to create UGA’s study abroad opportunity to address the problems with Russia’s summer camps. She received an International Development Education Award (IDEAS) grant from UGA’s Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach to help run the pilot program.

CCRussia has placed Americans in Russian recreational youth camps for 12 years, but sought a higher education partner to deepen the quality of technical assistance for their camps and increased learning experience for the student counselors. Participants do not need Russian language fluency but must desire to learn more about the language and culture and assist in teaching English as a second language. The partnership with CCUSA allowed the study abroad participants to access group rates for airfare, a guided tour of Moscow and support from the education ministry of Russia.

Powell has worked with CCUSA since 1989 as a summer camp professional hosting international counselors in U.S. camps and collaborated with the CCRussia program coordinator through projects with the American Camp Association (ACA) and the International Camp Fellowship (ICF).

The Pioneer Youth camps were formerly used as Soviet propaganda tool to educate the country’s youth, a testament to the power associated with a camp experience. The current opportunity is multilayered with benefits associated at the administrative level, UGA participant level and the youth participants. The program provided UGA faculty with unique training opportunities to work with Russian camp administrators and to learn about the struggles of entrepreneurial organizations within a newly formed government structure.