Youngsters from overseas flock to US private camps

The sailboats complete the downwind leg of their race with spinakers flying boldly as they round the final mark before heading toward the finish. On shore, spectators can almost spot flags from such faraway places as Spain, Italy, Germany, and Mexico. The language echoing across the bay is sailor talk and the pressure mounts as the boats tack homeward.

Only the size of the vessels and sailors clue one in to the fact that this is not the America's Cup at Newport. Rather these hearty little catboats, Mercurys , and Day Sailors are racing at Camp Viking on Cape Cod where, during the summer season, a virtual mini World Cup seems to take place. Ninety boys travel from all over America and abroad to try sailing at Viking which enjoys the reputation of one of the best sailing camp in the East. (Many ex-Vikingites have gone on to transatlantic racing.)

Viking is only one of the excellent independent American camps that are attracting foreign boys and girls. According to Armand Ball, president of the American Camping Association, 6 to 8 percent of all campers in this country today are from foreign countries.

The monetary rate of exchange makes coming to the US a virtual bargain. Parents from Europe and South America report that they can send a child by air, plus pay his camp fees, and come out spending less money than it would cost to keep the same child at home in his own country.

Apart from the bargain aspect, foreign parents seem to want their children to have a bicultural experience. A German boy was a Viking last year because his father had been an exchange student to America and he wanted his son to have a similar experience. Likewise, others see the "camp experience" as an easy and fun way to learn English.

Most European parents are looking for a general camp with a variety of sporting and recreational activities. However, certain sports, such as sailing, are a tremendous instant equalizer.

Thompson Lincoln, director of Viking, points out that when a sailing crew is out in the bay alone in a boat with the elements to contend with and a race to be won, everyone in that boat is equal. Each sailor has his specific job and must do it by following the skippers orders precisely, being alert and ready to change as the wind dictates.

According to the American Camping Association a large percentage of foreign campers are coming from Mexico, Italy, and other Spanish speaking countries. In fact, as of this writing, the director of Camp Echo Lake in the Adirondacks just returned from a reunion with his Mexican campers.

Other directors are aggressively going after the foreign market, recruiting boys and girls from as faraway as the Near East. Camp Manison in Friendswood, Texas, operates all year round keeping its doors open during the spring, fall, and winter accommodating foreign children who have a different summer vacation schedule. Camp Sky Lake in Yosemite National Park seems to be appealing to the Japanese, so much so that they just completed a promotion film in the Japanese language.

Sandy Smithson of the New York branch of the ACA reports taking calls daily from our embassies abroad requesting camp information. "The American Embassy in Paris just called because they had received so many requests for camp brochures ," she reported.

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