Being a leader in an international voluntary camp develops many soft skills as well as gives a better understanding of one’s capabilities and also personality. Becoming a good leader comes through learning by doing, often by trial and error. Nonetheless, it is an effective method of learning since the lessons one learns will stay with the person for the rest of their life.
First, a leader of an INEX camp needs to make preparations for the camp – to create an outline of the programme, to plan free time activities, to discuss work and food arrangements with the local partner, to contact the participants and inform them about travel possibilities and camp conditions. All of these activities develop organisational skills as well as time management, as the timeline leading up to the camp contains several deadlines. Of course, these skills are also important during the camp itself.
One of the most important skills that a leader needs is problem solving. No amount of preparation and planning can prevent unexpected situations, be it a delay or a cancellation of a participant, a misunderstanding with food or sudden change in weather. It requires creativity and flexibility to untangle these situations, to solve arising issues and to make the experience as good as it can be for all parties included.
Problem solving is closely connected to conflict management and cooperation. Since the camps are open to everyone from all around the world, it is impossible to predict how people from different cultures will get along with each other. A leader might have to step in, in case of an arising conflict and find ways to create a cooperative rather than conflictive atmosphere. For this, games about intercultural communication can be a great tool. Sometimes just sitting by the fire and telling stories or singing can also help to create a sense of community.
In the role of a leader, the focus might often be on the others, on the participants and the flow of the camp. It is important not to forget oneself during the intense weeks. A camp is a great place to get immediate feedback to one’s actions, as people are spending time together from the early morning to late hours of the night. A little bit of time for thinking and analysing all interactions and the feedback can result in becoming more self-aware, emphatic and making more suitable decisions for the whole group.
Last but not least, being a part of an international camp, be it as a leader or as a participant gives one a network of international contacts, new friends and new understanding of the world. There is not much to lose from the experience, only to gain.
Merike Puura was a European Voluntary Service (EVS) volunteer at INEX Slovakia in 2019. She studied Estonian and Finno-Ugric Linguistics at the University of Tartu before obtaining a degree in Sociolinguistics and Multilingualism from an international joint-degree Master’s programme at Johannes Gutenberg University and Vytautas Magnus University. One part of her EVS project was to lead summer camps in Slovakia. She participated in INEX Slovakia’s training for leaders and in the summer, she lead two camps in Zlatna na Ostrove and in Brekov. She likes travelling, singing, handicraft and video editing.