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Letter: Travel ban hurts hiring of summer-camp Concordia Language Villages staff

Every summer, 20,000 young adults from around the world serve as camp counselors in thousands of camps across the United States. International staff participate in science camps, sports camps, wilderness camps and language camps.

For many, this is their first experience in the United States. They are introduced to the time-honored tradition of songs and s'mores around the campfire.

In turn, they share their family stories and cultural traditions with campers who have never traveled to Egypt, Germany or Argentina.

Friendships that cross continents are forged at camp. The international camp staff return to their home countries with an increased understanding of typical American life; and there's nothing more typical than sleepaway camp for the average American family in summer.

The American Camp Association confirms that more than 11 million Americans enroll in a residential or day camp each year.

This is citizen diplomacy at its best, made possible by the U.S. State Department's J-1 Exchange Visitor program that has a category specially designed for camp counselors.

Since 1979, Concordia Language Villages has taken advantage of this opportunity to bring counselors from around the world to share their love of language and culture with young people eager to explore something new and different.

About 900 staff join the 15 Language Villages each summer. Of that number, about 135 are international staff from 30 countries on six continents.

We cannot afford to have these international exchange opportunities limited to a defined number of countries or for those of a certain religious or socioeconomic background. The recently imposed travel ban by the Trump administration has fostered an unreasonable sense of fear and anxiety for those applying for international camp jobs, no matter where they live in the world.

Our country is strengthened through more dialogue with the world, than less. Our ambassadors around the globe state that exchange programs are the most cost-effective investment in strengthening our national security.

Exchange participants consistently report that they completed their programs with a better impression of the United States. A Department of State program evaluation shows that 94 percent of high school exchange students from Muslim-majority countries said that their stay in the United States gave them a more favorable view of the American people and culture.

To understand America, it's best to experience it. And where better to start than at summer camp?

Schulze is the executive director of Concordia Language Villages, the language- and cultural-immersion camps sponsored by Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn. She is board chair emeritus of the Alliance for International Exchange, a Washington-based organization that promotes educational and cultural exchange.

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