Dr. GWYNN M. Powell, Adjunct Professor, Recreation and Leisure Studies, University of Georgia, Associate Professor, Park, Recreation and Tourism Management, Clemson University. USA, Clemson.
Dr. Powell has taught Camp Administration and International Youth Development at the University level since 2001 and prior served 10 years as a Youth Development Professional in the United States.  Since 2005, she has collaborated with CCUSA to lead a study abroad program where students from the USA come to serve as cultural ambassadors and English-language instructors in summer youth camps in the Mari el Republic of Russia.  This article compares the collective and individual cultural mindsets as they manifest as observed by Powell in the management of staff in a summer youth camp context in the US and Russia with recognition that there is cultural bias and limitations to those observations.
Abstract:  the roots of both collectivist and individualist cultures manifest themselves in subtle ways that are visible in modern management contexts.  This article uses that lens to examine the management of a shared cultural phenomenon: seasonal staffing for summer youth camps.  In both design and implementation, the collectivist and individualist ideals are evident in seasonal staffing contexts.  This article examines current management situations in the United States of America and the Russian Federation in regards to seasonal staffing, specifically, context, hiring, and supervision.

Keywords: human resource management, cross-cultural, summer youth camps.

When one thinks about cultural differences between the United States of America and the Russian Federation with the broadest of strokes, the ideas of collectivist and individualist society often come to mind.  The roots of both cultures manifest themselves in subtle ways that are visible in modern management contexts.  This article uses that lens to examine the management of a shared cultural phenomena, seasonal staffing for summer youth camps.  Both countries have strong traditions of youth camp programs that have in common a basis found in the British Scouting movement.  From that common seed, ideas sprouted and were nurtured in different systems.  In the USA, the camp movement grew with both non-profit agency and private individual leadership; while in Russia, the Soviet government utilized a grand national design to systematize camp programs.  Therefore, in both design and implementation, the collectivist and individualist ideals are evident.  This article examines current management situations in both countries in regards to seasonal staffing, specifically, context, hiring, and supervision.

Youth Camp Context

At the heart of the camp experience in both countries, the goal of preparing youth for a productive future is the same in both Russia and the USA.   Camp participation is something that can cross economic and language barriers, and especially in Russia, connects generations with a common experience.  While the goals and daily schedules are often quite similar, with an emphasis on team-building, sport, arts & crafts, singing and dancing, there are some important structural differences to note.
In the USA, the majority of camps are operated by non-profit community organizations and religious institutions, with additional camps owned and operated by private individuals.  This variety means that camps in the USA can operate with very different philosophies and practices.  It is the responsibility of the parents to investigate the quality of the camp program and seek a compatible program for their children.  There is a voluntary accreditation program available through the American Camp Association, but there is not mandatory government oversight of the camp operations.  There are specific inspections that occur on an annual basis regarding sanitary conditions, and specialty certifications for some program areas (waterfront, high-adventure, equestrian, etc.).  In many camps there is an emphasis on individual skill building in sports, arts, music or dance with instruction from beginner to advanced levels.  Camps determine their session length depending on market conditions and program objectives with the most common length of time as one or two weeks.
In Russia, the majority of camps were operated by the government or trade unions that provided a common camp program to follow with little variation.  This common base of leadership leads to uniformity and similarities among the camps.  In addition, Russian camps are subject to multiple inspections from multiple agencies during a season.  These inspections are very detailed and include specific instructions regarding menus, sanitation, structure and program.  A central agency within the republics reviews program plans and provides public feedback regarding the results of the inspections.  In addition, unlike US camps, parents are likely to appear at camp at any time the parent chooses to observe and interact with their child. This level of scrutiny is quite different than the “separateness” that is created in US camp programs.  US youth are expected to leave cellphones at home and separate from the home environment, while Russian campers may have their cellphones and interact with family while at camp.  Most Russian camp sessions are longer (often three weeks) with an emphasis on the group rather than individual progression with activity improvement.  There are regional professional associations and a national association in Russia that support professional development and training, but do not have an external accreditation system.
Both camp environments build on the sense of community where things that would not happen at home, such as the quick creation of a skit, song or dance, creates a bond and common experience for all who are part of the camp community.  The time spent at the end of the day in both camp environments includes a time for reflection; yet, the Russian camp close of the day seems to be a more honest assessment of what went well and what did not that leads to faster resolution of issues and a more cohesive group mentality.  At a US camp, a common challenge includes cliques where a smaller group of friends takes precedence and creates conflict within the larger camp group.  Even the simple question of “how are you” to a US camper would likely result in an automatic response of “good or great” with no thought given, yet the same question to a Russian camper leads to a moment of thought and then the most common response of “normal”.  This simple observation gives insight into the level of self-reflection and expectation at the individual level that plays out at the camp organization level as well.  As a result of so many inspections and parental observation, the Russian camps know their level of performance based on external objectives.  In the US, the capitalist market forces determine more of what is valued and what will “sell” to the current generation of campers and parents.
A look at who directs camp programs also reveals a fundamental difference.  Many camp directors in Russia are the strong, nurturing female leaders.  Camp programs served as a pipeline for female leadership in organizations.  In the USA, there tend to be more men heading youth organizations as the focus is on the business-side of camp: the marketing, organization and budgeting of the operation. The overall context of the camp programs illustrates the collective and individual foci while still revealing individual differences within the trends.

Seasonal Staff Hiring

As camp directors seek to guide program development and implement innovation, the seasonal staff are a key element for success.  In most Russian camps, staff are recruited from the same geographic region where the camp is located.  In the US, the camp directors advertise for staff nationally and many utilize international staff.  In the US, there is generally a shortage of male staff applicants for positions.  This shortage may be in part that male staff are able to apply for a broader range of seasonal summer jobs (landscaping, construction, etc.) and camp counseling can be viewed as a more nurturing role primarily for women.  In Russia, in part due to the long-standing traditions of summer camp, the staffing applicants are more gender-balanced.  The role of counselor in Russia seems to be more highly valued as a work experience and staff often return for multiple summers.  This value may be related to the relatively higher unemployment rate in rural areas of Russia and the likelihood that people live in the same region for their lifetime.
In Russia, staff training for the summer period often runs for several weekends during March and April and provides a general level of understanding of youth development and program basics.  Often this training is a collaborative of several camps to allow the camp directors to see their staff in action and also share the best knowledge from multiple places. By starting so long before camp season, the camp director can gain a better sense of the staff as a group and can make session placements based on more personal knowledge of the group.  It also allows time for information to be absorbed, discussed and applied in multiple contexts prior to the summer season.  In US camps, geography is viewed as a barrier and staff training is typically held at camp just a few days prior to the arrival of the campers for the summer.  Each camp trains its own staff rather than the collective initiative of the Russian camp directors.  Often the US camps have very specific, detailed staff training plans with specific attention to child abuse prevention, risk management, program delivery and camp philosophy.  The Russian orientation provides a more general overview with an emphasis on team-building and more detailed program plans are developed on a daily basis during the camp session.
In addition to the training difference, the process of contracts for staff timeframes is different.  In most US camps, a contract for the entire summer season is offered to the counselor.  This allows both the camp and the staff member to plan their summer and be certain about the amount of money and experience to be gained as a result of camp.  This system is good from the planning standpoint, but creates a common challenge of burn-out at approximately week seven of a ten-week contract.  In Russia, staff members are often contracted for only one session of work, and then are not told whether they can stay for the next session until the day the first session ends.  This uncertainty creates a sense of expectation for high-quality of work for the entire period, but also creates scheduling challenges for both the camp and the staff member.  It is unclear if the sense of insecurity motivates sufficiently to make up for the push of work at the end of a session to replace and support new staff members for the next session.  By having the pool of trained staff in a local area, the staff can quickly be in place.  In addition, the ability to leave camp on a day off and truly go home, rest, wash clothes, etc. is an advantage to staff in the US who are often far away from home.  Staff, as a whole, have a longer work day in Russia, so the true break from camp life seems to be necessary to help them recharge their energy.  In addition, in the event that staff need to be fired from a position, the Russian camp director is in a position to quickly find a replacement, which may or may not be the case for the US camp director.
The differences within this aspect of camp management are overshadowed by the need of camp directors around the world to find and retain staff who are able to put the camper needs above their own, and participate in the collective camp life that is vastly difference than the staff members’ normal life.  Staff are asked to become part of a larger group and suppress individual lifestyle patterns to create the common camp experience.

Seasonal Staff Supervision

Regardless of the level of planning, it is the daily interactions between campers and staff that make or break a program.  In Russian camps, each day includes a planning session that allows staff to report on the lessons and experiences of the day.  To an outsider, the individual reporting seems to take an inordinate amount of time, when discussions in smaller groups might produce similar results, but Russian camp directors report the need to hear the reports as a whole.  This reporting is what creates and sustains the collective identity of the staff and provides the backbone for the unique identity for each session.  Overall themes for sessions are created prior to camp, but the daily “coming to life” of that theme is modified based on the mood and sense of the camp as it unfolds.  In many US camps, the schedule is set prior to camp with individual camper scheduling taking priority over the group schedule.  There is very little free time for staff or campers in US camps, while Russian camp directors recognize the need for campers to learn how to use free time responsibly, so are not shy about putting free time into the schedule.  This schedule difference creates a learning opportunity for staff and campers in Russia to communicate with each other about group desires for this time and to compromise on how to implement it on a daily basis.  The discussions can be viewed as time inefficiency if one does not see the value of the collective in the learning experience.
Both Russian and US staff work to create a sense of community and use a variety of program formats to accomplish this goal.  A sense of camp spirit is evident in both systems.  Often both systems use intra-group competition to galvanize group identity.  Many US camps utilize a series of individual achievement levels within an activity to promote completion with individuals to spur individual growth and desire for improvement. The thought that personal achievement will help create a sense of self that is beneficial to society ties into the US philosophy about self-esteem as an important individual trait that can be supported and enhanced by the camp experience.
In conclusion, summer youth camp can be said to be a both a product of and a reinforcer of the ideals society hopes for its citizens. As countries examine their dreams for the future and how to best equip youth to achieve those possibilities, the management of youth programs deserves careful scrutiny.  This scrutiny in terms serves to show what is working to reinforce the best of the society and is an indicator of gradual shifts in culture that may need self-correction.  US camps reinforce the idea that the unit of the individual is the most important even within the sociological phenomenon that is camp.  Russian camps emphasize the value of the collective yet incorporate the individuals who participate. In terms of context, staff hiring and supervision, camp is a microcosm of the society with a seasonal time period that can allow for examination, change and implementation that is more difficult in traditional work settings.