I feel grateful and indebted to Camp Rising Sun for the unique opportunity it afforded me this past summer to grow and expand my horizons in an international context. I had traveled a bit in the past, but never had exposure (certainly not in one place) to the great variety of people and cultures that Camp offered. I’m particularly thankful to have had the opportunity to host campers in my home before the camp session officially started. Planning menus, readying our apartment, and waiting at the airport for girls I had never met made me feel connected to them right from the start as we began the amazing process of learning about one another over meals, during subway rides, and on walks through the streets of New York. It gave me sense of what it’s like to be a cultural ambassador, spokesperson, and tour guide in my native city, and started a process of bonding that led to new friendships that grew in number and deepened during the month we all spent in Rhinebeck.
It’s one thing to read about other countries, but it’s another to be in the presence of people who tell you first-person stories of what life is like in other places, some so remote that it takes days to reach them even with modern transportation, and others totally unreachable because of political barriers and prejudices. In befriending a camper from Greenland, I had the privilege of learning about a region of the earth whose unique landscape and language still leave me open-mouthed in wonder. In a very different but equally powerful way, I tasted the food and gained an inside perspective on how hard life is in occupied Palestine, where people on the West Bank are forced to suffer oppression. The world came alive for me in both subtle and dynamic ways through such cultural sharing. In our lightest and most carefree moments, we bonded through the songs we sang with one another. In more trying moments, we tackled our terror of giant insects, and worked to deal diplomatically with problems that arose during our overnight hike.
Then, there were private moments of deep-thinking and revelation, of spending the night alone in the woods amidst the haunting sound of coyotes as we worked to keep our individual fires alive, or the magic of climbing the star-gazing tower and seeing the night air fill with a thousand fireflies.
I’ve been changed by these experiences, and as a result, I can never completely go back to my old world and look at things the same way. However, I’ve been able to take what I’ve learned and bring them to bear on how I encounter life back at home. I’ve always been a tolerant person, but I’ve learned to exercise greater patience in trying to understand why people do or say certain things, at that same time that I’ve honed my by ability to challenge behavior that disrespects or hurts other people. In leaving its imprint, camp has helped to expand my friendships and community, and strengthened my public voice.