Anna and J-1 participant Jordan at YMCA Camp McAlister
Fate works in mysterious ways. The prospect of living abroad never crossed Anna Dolezal’s mind when she applied for a job at a YMCA summer camp 3,000 miles away from her home in Washington state in 2015. The connections and friendships Anna made while working alongside CHI’s J-1 camp counselor exchange participants at YMCA Camp McAlister in upstate New York were transformational. The following summer, Anna returned to work as the International Coordinator for all three of the New York City YMCA camps in the region, helping both J-1 camp counselors and international campers with adjusting to their new environment, organizing various cultural activities, and helping everyone truly see what life was like in the US. These moments had a lasting impact.
“The people I met from Europe, South America, and the Middle East, and the perspectives they shared with me have given me a better, broader understanding of my own country, and our world,” Anna said. “As a political science student, I am always reminded of the value of surrounding yourself with people who have perspectives different than your own, and camp truly opened my life up to the rest of the world.”
Anna is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in International and European Politics at the University of Edinburgh. After studying abroad in Spain in 2016, Anna decided to apply for the graduate program in Scotland due in part that one of her former J-1 camp counselor friends lives there. The opportunity has led her to focus much of her coursework on international exchanges within the European Union (EU). She hopes to go on to work with the EU’s Erasmus program which leads the region in educational, work, and volunteer exchanges across the 28 member countries. The interaction and involvement with cultural exchanges and the J-1 camp counselor program have been an inspirational force behind Anna’s passion for global issues and the human condition.
“The camp connection has undoubtedly had one of the biggest, most tangible influences on my life, but there are countless other ways I have benefited from the cultural exchanges at camp,” Anna said.
To Anna, and as an American, these exchanges evolved into much more than just a summer job. The relationships she made at camp have since blossomed into life-long international friendships, such as meeting up recently with three of her former J-1 camp counselor friends in Paris, where they laughed at old memories and sang camp songs together. She believes that the exposure to so many different cultures has given her a new perspective on the world. “I am forever grateful for these cultural exchanges, and hope I can make a career out of helping others have the same enriching experiences.”
View a video to hear Anna speak in detail about how the power of cultural exchange has transformed her life.