FEW MEN HAVE BEEN more active in the Sam Houston Area Council than Ron Thomas and Armando Aguirre. An Eagle Scout and a Scouter for 36 years, Thomas has taken many high-adventure trips with Troop 242, Crew 242, and council contingents. As a member (and past chairman) of the council’s High Adventure Committee, he leads seminars to help others prepare for high adventure.
Aguirre, in addition to spending 19 years as a unit leader, has led Wood Badge and National Youth Leadership Training courses, served on the faculty of several Philmont Training Center conferences, and staffed the Philmont Leadership Challenge.
Until a few years ago, though, neither man had taken Scouts overseas. That changed when they joined forces on a trip to Kandersteg International Scout Centre in Switzerland.
Kandersteg bills itself as a place where Scouts from around the world can meet. Is that true?
- Thomas: It is, as Baden-Powell said, a mini world jamboree. The kids had a chance to interact with different cultures and different languages and experience Scouting the way Baden-Powell envisioned it.
- Aguirre: On international night, a lot of contingents share something from their country with everybody else. We took a lot of patches from our council and also created a CD of music by Texas musicians. It was nice to see our youth interacting with kids from, say, Norway.
Did you deal with a language barrier?
- Aguirre: No. Staff members are required to speak English, which is helpful for those from the U.S. who may not be multilingual.
Aside from the setting and the international flavor, how did Kandersteg compare with a U.S. camp?
- Aguirre: The schedule is more flexible. You can arrive any day of the week and leave any day of the week. You can pick and choose whichever activities you want to do.
- Thomas: It has a European flair. We felt like we were on vacation and not at a Scout camp.
What activities were available?
- Aguirre: Kandersteg does not offer many activities itself. What they do is help facilitate what you want to do. If you want to hike to a hut in the mountains, they’ll help facilitate that. If you want to do some whitewater rafting, they’ll help make the arrangements. They can accommodate those who are looking for more physically challenging activities, more leisurely activities, and everything in between.
Are there can’t-miss activities?
- Thomas: There are two activities that provide tremendous interaction with Scouts from across the world: the international evening on Monday and the closing campfire on Friday night.
Some people new to Venturing worry about dealing with co-ed crews. Did you have any problems?
- Aguirre: None at all. When they go to school, it’s co-ed. When they go on band trips, it’s co-ed. They’re doing that all the time anyway, so I don’t think it’s anything to be leery of. It was never an issue for us.
What lessons did you learn about planning international trips?
- Thomas: First, from a logistics standpoint, a good sweet spot for an international trip is somewhere between 12 and 15 participants, topping out at 16. Second, you’ve got to look at those medical forms. You are 24 to 36 hours away from home if you have to send somebody back to the United States because of a medical emergency.
What about controlling costs?
- Thomas: Early on, someone has to start calling airlines and checking airfares. If they have a sale, try to take advantage of that. And get out of the Sunday-through-Saturday mindset. Airfares are often cheaper Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so travel midweek.
Finally, how do Venturers (and adults) benefit from international trips?
- Aguirre: They get a broader perspective on what Scouting’s all about and on the world we live in. They see the worldwide Scouting movement firsthand. Even though Scouting may be different elsewhere, Scouts still operate under the same general principles. They still practice Scout skills, they still wear a uniform, and they still do things the way we do in the United States.
Armando and Ron did a wonderful job with this trip. It broadened the views of the youth as well as the adults. And they did it the way it should be done, allowing the youth to make the decisions on what they wanted to do while staying in the background providing the supervision. This trip allowed the youth to use their independence in a safe learning environment, in a group where their opinions were valued and respected. It is indeed impressive to see the decisions that young people make when they are allowed to, and I felt honored to be included in such a great group of caring people. That a group of teenagers all made it onto the Swiss trains on time can be considered quite an accomplishment! That they were always polite and fun to be around is a great statement about what Scouting offers to our kids.