“It’s fun to live your dream!” This phrase has become my motto since 2005 when I heard it from Chuck Ackenbom, the camp director of Camp Friendship, during the International Camping Fellowship (ICF) Congress in Mexico City. He said it while talking to Mexican camp directors telling them the story of his dream – the creation of Camp Friendship.
In 2005, I received the Fulbright Scholarship to pursue a master’s degree from Columbia College Chicago. I successfully completed my studies in 2007 with a special focus in Arts in Youth and Community Development. I stayed one more year to do my practical training at one Hispanic educational organization in Chicago.
While studying Youth Arts Development at Columbia College Chicago, my key interest was the Latino community. In my Masters thesis, I combined my interest and my career goal by studying the perception of Latino parents in the U.S about summer overnight camps. My research remains the most extensive on this topic, and has been well-received by other camp professionals. It was published in the Camping Magazine – a professional magazine of the American Camp Association (ACA). Columbia College Chicago presented me with an award “Professional Service to the Community” for my thesis and for my continued work within the Hispanic community in Chicago. Just recently this article was also won the ACA Golden Quill Award 2009. This award – which is funded through a memorial established in J. Wendell and Ruth T. Howe’s name—encourages excellence in writing. Each year it recognizes those individuals who contribute to Camping Magazine with quality articles that address the needs of camp professionals. This award will be presented to me during the opening of the ACA National Conference in Orlando, Florida in February 2009.
I was also invited to present the results of my research at the annual National Conference of American Camp Association in Nashville, TN in February 2008 and at the ACA Midstates Conference in St. Charles, IL in April 2008. In addition, I will be co-presenting two sessions during the coming National Conference of American Camp Association in Orlando, FL in February 2009. One is a panel discussion on the issue of diversity and another one talks about “widening the circle” by reaching out to youth for whom camp has never been part of their culture (Hispanics, African Americans, Blacks, etc.).
Along with completing a rigorous academic curriculum, numerous group projects, field research, attendance, and presentations at conferences, I volunteered at four reputable non-profit organizations during the 2-year course of my Fulbright studies in the USA - Concordia Language Villages Camps in Minnesota, Union League Boys and Girls Clubs Camp (Chicago), Association House of Chicago, and the American Camp Association. All of them provided me with invaluable insights and practical experiences in non-profit and youth organizations.
I am planning to continue my studies on a PhD level in couple of years. In my PhD studies, I plan to broaden my research towards campers of color in general. I plan to look at the influence of a camp experience on a population for whom camp has never been part of their culture. My goal is to understand how camp impacts academic performance of campers of color at school and to study the issue of assimilation and preserving cultural identity. Does camp experience make the campers of color better students at schools? Does it improve their academic performance? To what degree does a camp experience cause assimilation in a new culture while preserving the cultural identity of campers of color? These are the questions I plan to raise and study in my research.
I cannot think of a better compliment as a Fulbright Scholar than being quoted by Mrs. Harriett Fulbright in the foreword to the book Experiencing America: Through the Eyes of Visiting Scholars, where I published an essay about my Fulbright experience. Her words reaffirmed my desire to continue contributing to the “movement for understanding” among nations.
“Russia’s Marina Lukanina truly understood what senator Fulbright had in mind for his scholars: ’Fulbright is definitely helping me to live my dream – to study and expand my knowledge, to acquire an invaluable experience of meeting and communicating with lots of different people. Fulbright provides significant positive influence on a person’s development by giving him a chance to celebrate his difference. We will make future generations more perceptive and flexible. They will come to understand the necessity to learn and respect the differences in our diverse and fast-moving world.’ I couldn’t have said it better myself.”*
*Fulbright, Harriett Mayor. Foreword to Experiencing America: Through the Eyes of Visiting Fulbright Scholars. AutoHouse, 2006.