Hello, my name is Nick Newberry. I hail from Oakton, Virginia where I am a high school science teacher. This is my 12th summer at camp. My role at Camp is to design signs about Coniston’s incredible nature.
While Coniston’s nature has deep meaning to me and holds many Vespers-worthy lessons, today I will not be talking about nature, but people. Specifically people from countries other than the United States: our international staff.
Before I begin in earnest, I’d like everyone to silently raise their hand if they would like to visit a foreign country at some point in the future (a vast majority of campers and staff raised their hands). I hope that each of you who raised their hand is able to travel and experience other cultures. Traveling for me has enriched my life in so many ways. My experiences in the far corners of the planet have shown me different perspectives on life fulfillment and values, cuisine, and ways of living. I am forever grateful for those experiences. With that being said, some of my most cherished international experiences have actually taken place right here at Camp in the Woods of New Hampshire.
I have been coming to Coniston since 2005 and in that time, I have come to know and be influenced by many international staff members from Brunei and Zimbabwe to Mexico, Canada, and many places in between. Every year these incredible staff members step away from their lives back home, leaving the comfort of their friends, family, and favorite food behind to take a chance on a camp in rural New Hampshire where they may not know a single person, or even feel confident with the language. These brave and adventurous people have shared a tremendous amount with me through stories, conversations, and experiences. I have lived the intensity of a Mexico-U.S. soccer game with 20 Mexican staff as the only American; learned the ins and outs of outdoor adventure in New Zealand; and heard tales of food, culture, and exploration in the mountains of Colombia and Mexico. These moments and many others have allowed me to gain authentic views of life in another culture with my feet firmly planted on American soil.
Those of you who know me well, know that I love a good story. I find that a good story shared with me by someone allows me to teleport and time travel in my mind, and to feel a stronger connection with the storyteller. So, I want to share one particular story with you about a very special connection I made last year at camp. As many of you are aware, Coniston has an exchange program with a hospitality school in South Africa. Last summer I grew close with the counselors from this school, spending long hours getting to know them at the cooking program area and during free time. Eventually, the end of the summer came and they returned to their homes in South Africa and Zimbabwe, and I returned home to Virginia. The story picks up a few months later when, during the winter holidays, I received a gift from one of my students. The gift was a small figurine of a Blue Jay, which the student bought at a local fair trade shop. The Jay was made by painting a large Ulumbe Tree seed, which is about the size of a thumb. Accompanying the Jay was a short story about its origin. The seed was grown in Bulawayo and painted in Ruwa, both of which are in Zimbabwe. I messaged Yolanda Zenasi, the lone representative from Zimbabwe at camp last summer to see if she knew either of these places; it turns out she has been to both! Telling my student about this connection made the gift all the more special for both of us. Fast forward 7 months to two nights ago when I drove some of the South African group to the Bigelow cabin across the lake for a celebration dinner they were preparing for their school’s directors, who were here at camp visiting. Because of my pre-existing relationships with this South African staff, I was invited to stay and ended up remaining there for many hours while each South African student shared their story of how they came to be at the school and the gratitude they had for their directors. Each student spoke for between 15 minutes and half an hour, which is not something I have ever experienced in America. Their stories about hurdles they had overcome to get to Coniston and the gratitude they had for being here brought tears to my eyes. I now feel a stronger connection than ever to these incredible people from across the world.
I will leave you all with a challenge. Your challenge for this session is to start a conversation with a staff member from a different county. To allow yourself for a brief period of time to travel the world through a story while strengthening your connection to that person, camp, and the world. That connection won’t happen by accident, you need to seek it out.