Celebrating international campers and staff at Pemi

flagsThere are more than 20 flags hanging from the ceiling of the Mess Hall at Pemi, and each represents the country of a camper or staff member who has come to Pemi from abroad. Among many others, the flags for China, South Africa, Japan and Cameroon are up there. Also hanging from the rafters is a black and red flag; on the black half are five white stars depicting the Southern Cross, and on the red half is the image of a Bird of Paradise: it’s the flag of Papua New Guinea.

Most people who have a relatively recent connection with Pemi know that Papua New Guinea’s flag was first hung in the Mess Hall for Nuwi Somp, a longtime counselor who’s from that country, and a man who carries with him joy enough to light up all those around him. If you’ve met him, you know that one of his most striking characteristics is his laugh: it’s one of the most spirited, bubbling laughs you’ll ever hear. While he wasn’t at camp in the summer of 2009, his son, Sompy was. And Nuwi’s daughter, Joann, attended Camp Wawenock in Maine. (Getting the Somp children to their camps, a massive undertaking in itself, was spearheaded by Pemi’s Head of Nature, Larry Davis.)

sompy somp

Photo by Fred Seebeck.

Their story is told in an article, “Home (9000 Miles) Away from Home,” by longtime Pemi counselor and Bean Soup editor Josh Fischel. Fischel is the Public Information Associate at the American Camp Association, New England, and the article was published on that organization’s website. The article tells the story both of how Nuwi Somp first made a connection with Pemi, and what the camp experience was like for his children, Sompy and Joann. I recommend giving it a read.

Getting to know international campers and staff is, in my opinion, one of the richest parts of a Pemi experience. My counselor when I was a camper in the Lake Tent in 1994 was Andy Kerr, from Scotland, and over the years I’ve loved having friendships with BUNAC counselors from the United Kingdom. (And I’m going to assume that the process is rewarding the opposite way, too: to spend a summer or more at Pemi from another country must be a fantastic experience.)

This summer, campers from England, Italy, Spain, Mexico, Switzerland, Germany, and France will be at camp. If you came to Pemi from abroad, what was that like? Or, for American alumni, when you were at Pemi, were you friends with someone from another country? Perhaps you can shed some light on what it was like to share a cabin, a table, a soccer game or a hiking trip in the White Mountains with someone from another country—even if they didn’t travel as far as the Somps did to the shores of Lower Baker.

Rob Verger

6 thoughts on “Celebrating international campers and staff at Pemi

  1. Great article, Rob! My fond memories of international counselors date back to the early ’70’s and Ian MacGregor, a charming Irishman with prodigious energy and good will. Legends like Rick “Drivingboat” Davenport, Michael “Scotty” Clarke, Phil Burnett, Justin Thompson-Glover, Mark and Simon Warmington, Colin Brooks, Esq. (now residing with wife and family in Vermont) and, very recently, the Bryant brothers (Sneaky and Squeaky!)have enriched the lives of Pemi boys for ages, as have those boys who’ve joined us from all over the world. We look forward to working with alumnus Jaime Garcia’s son from Puerto Rico this summer, for instance. My trip to London with the Malcolms, the Reeds, and Brad Saffer to attend Phil and Emma Burnett’s wedding remains one of the most pleasant (and hilarious) weekends of my life, and I’ll never forget newlyweds Esteban and Tania Garcia taking time out of their wedding night to show a bunch of their Pemi friends around Old San Juan. Such friendships as these, which endure the passage of years and decades, most certainly, as you say, rank among the richest parts of the Pemi experience.

  2. Thank you for dedicating an article to the campers from abroad. At the age 11 I attended a summer camp in New Hampshire,and came back 3 summers. 30 years later I have clear and vivid rememberances of thous summers in which I had fabulous times and experiences. Globalization wasn´t then as developed as now; it helpped me a lot to live and work in this global world we live in. So this year we are very excited since two of my sons, Pepe (10) and Diego (9) have rolled up in Camp Pemi for the first period. There is no doubt it will be one of the greatest experiences in their lives.

    José Periel, Spain.

  3. As one of the BUNACer’s fortunate enough to have been on the shores of Lower Baker Pond this year, I certainly agree with Rob when he says that spending a summer at Pemi, having come from another country, is a really rewarding experience. As well as meeting great people, Pemi opened my eyes to the world of summer camp – a tradition and culture that, unfortunately, hasn’t made it over to our side of the pond. One summer was enough for me to realise that Pemi is really quite special, made all the better by the diversity of the campers and staff.

    I found out about Pemi through an organisation that started in 1962, BUNAC. It aims to facilitate cultural exchange programmes across North America – and Pemi is a great example of the programme’s success. I loved meeting and getting to know campers, parents and staff, exploring NH and further afield, finally understanding baseball, trying s’mores and lots more… And in return, amongst other things, I think the campers (and staff!) enjoy and benefit from hearing our funny accents, playing new games, finding out what England is really like, and of course, tasting British chocolate!

  4. Nostalgic Return Visit to Pemi

    Last month (Feb. 2010), during my first visit to New England for 40 years, I made a special point of returning to Lower Baker Pond. In contrast to that warm summer of 1969, the lake was now in deep freeze and the timber huts deserted and bleak in the drifting snow. Camp Pemi was in hibernation, gathering energy for the coming summer season.
    In 1969, as a student from Ireland, working as a camp counsellor was a wonderful opportunity to visit a little corner of the U S A for the first time and experience the invigorating environment of New Hampshire. Throughout that summer the hospitality of directors and staff was nothing less than generous and the good humour plus friendliness of fellow counsellors and campers alike evokes warm memories. I was assigned Hut J 4 with responsibility for such diverse individuals as Rob Wheatcroft, Tommy Sunshine, Fred Hellyer, Jon Ravenal (if any of you read this, please get in touch). The programme of sports, hiking, camp-craft, cultural activities and visits to local scenic venues was always well organised. Occasionally events in the outside world would intrude such as the first moon landing on 21 July but mostly we were all cocooned in the rural idyll that was/is Camp Pemi.
    Now 40 years later the international flavour of Pemi has been enhanced by campers and counsellors from many countries. If they derive even half of the enjoyment of my stay in that far-off summer, they will be amply rewarded. Thanks Pemi.

    Chris. Kirkpatrick

  5. As a camper from the rather insular state of Vermont in the mid to late 70s, I remember being surprised to meet so many foreign campers, especially a large number of Latino kids. I probably learned more about the possibilities of the sport of soccer, rarely played in Vermont, from watching the three Venezuelan Paz Parra brothers than from any other source. And my cabin mate Cesar Castillo, a Puerto Rican (and perhaps then not technically foreign…), became a good friend. I remember being amazed at his ability to catch minnows out of the stream with his bare hands, and also never being able to beat him at tennis. There is no doubt that the cadre of foreign campers and counselors added a richness to the camp experience that is well worth preserving, and which I was glad to see last summer as my son shared a cabin with Sompy.

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