For some, the summerside camp removed from city life was a jarring transition. For others, adjusting to Buffalo’s summer temperature – which is either too hot or too cold, compared with their native countries – was challenging.
But spending the summer as a camp counselor for economically disadvantaged and special-needs children is an eye-opening experience for a large contingent of Cradle Beach counselors from overseas.
“You don’t have to feel uncomfortable with who you are,” said Sam Brennan, 21, a three-time camp counselor from Scotland, who moved to Michigan and redirected his educational plans to work with special-needs children after working as a counselor.
“I couldn’t think of any other way to spend my summers,” he added.
The international counselors hail from South Africa, Colombia, Scotland, Australia, Taiwan and Spain. Some took multiple connecting flights to converge on the secluded lakeside Cradle Beach camp.
For a camp that prides itself on diversity, the six international counselors contribute a global dimension, broadening campers’ world view beyond the immediate area, said camp director Bonnie A. Brusk.
In previous years, Cradle Beach has hosted international nights, where campers rotate stations and learn tidbits about different cultures.
One year, two Taiwanese counselors taught campers calligraphy and tai-chi.
At an international night two years ago, Brennan said, he showcased Scottish currency and rattled off a list of Scottish slang to campers, such as “quine” for girl and “loon” for boy. Oftentimes, Brennan said, the campers’ knowledge of Scotland is confined to the movie “Braveheart.”
During their interactions with counselors, the campers often fire off innocent questions. Some ask counselor Clinton Freebody, 25, about Australian wildlife and correct him when he calls a chicken patty a “chickenburger.” And, of course, they comment on his accent.
“They love the idea of sitting down with somebody that talks to them differently. Even though we sound normal – they sound weird,” Freebody quipped.
Freebody oversees Pioneer Campers, or campers age 14 to 16 who previously attended the camp and are responsible for younger children. Pioneer campers Natalie Rice and Jessica Toscano, both 15, agreed that Freebody and the other international counselors are among the camp’s most popular.
“All the international counselors are being asked questions,” Natalie said.
Campers constantly offer the international counselors snacks such as Jolly Ranchers, Smarties and Cheez-Its, surprised the counselors had never sampled the popular eats.
The camp has been a learning experience for the counselors, too. Deciding to accept the counselor position was a personal challenge for Victor Miro Orozco, 28, of Spain. The first couple of days were emotionally trying, as some of the special-needs children reminded him of ill family at home.
“For me, it’s sad to see these kids, but then you realize they’re happy in their own worlds, and you are helping them,” he said.
Howard Lee, 21, embarked on his own Cradle Beach experience after his sister, Emily, gushed about her experience with the program.
“I was very jealous and envious, because I always wanted to go to the states and experience foreign life,” Lee said.
Secluded from public transportation and the hustle and bustle of life in Taiwan, Lee said, he hopes to lead play stations that educate campers about Taiwanese food and culture.
Summarizing the apprehension of many of the international counselors who never worked with special-needs children before arriving at Cradle Beach, Brennan, the 21-year-old from Scotland, admitted he first entered the camp with misconceptions, unsure of what to expect.
“I totally judged what it was going to be like before doing it,” he said.
Now, immersed in the camp’s spirit and accepting nature, those apprehensions have long since subsided.
Donations to Cradle Beach can be sent to 8038 Old Lake Shore Road, Angola, NY 14006, or made online by visiting www.cradlebeach.org.