Camp directors aren’t the only people who are working hard this time of year to make camp happen. As the director of International Exchange of North America (IENA), Matt Buczek and his team bring in approximately 5,000 international staff to work at camps in the summer. Now that’s a lot of moving pieces. From a tremendous amount of travel to the myriad of things that can happen when you’re working with that many folks, Matt is extraordinarily busy. His time as a camp director at places like the Frost Valley YMCA prepared him for this giant responsibility and he’s learned a few more things since. Here’s what Matt has to say:
So what’s it like this time of year for you?
May for me is like my Facebook status said--it’s the first fifteen minutes of Saving Private Ryan--every day. I’m driving into New York right now watching my emails go up. I have some friends from England in town for two days--I’ve paid to check into my hotel early and I’m going to work all day in the hotel before I see them tonight. I go to work from 9 to 5 and put my kids to bed. Then I’m in the office until 12 or 1 every night. My May is a director’s July. You just keep going ‘til it gets done you get up and do it again. You’ll sleep once the busy season’s over.
How do you do it?
I’m just a very black and white person. It is what it is. I can tell you our busy season ends on June, and on June 3 I’m going to Jamaica for eight days. We recognize our staff are in the trenches with us, so we give our staff 21 days’ vacation a year, we give them two weeks off over Christmas. We kind of have a very relaxed attitude to office time during the rest of the year because we know from February 1 ‘til end of May, it’s just crazy.
My relationship with my wife is at the lowest ever at the end of May every year, and you definitely have to thaw the guilt. Last night, I put the kids to bed, and then I’m in the middle of putting out a fire [with work]. Then, I’ve got one of them calling down to read them a story! I can’t say no to my kids--that kind of stuff is tough.
What some advice you’d give to yourself looking back?
Don’t approach the job like you’re curing cancer--you’re not. Jack and Laura would hate me to say this! When you get older, and you hit my age, you realize, we might be able to plant a few little seeds in the kids--but we can’t always change the world in two weeks. We’re just giving the kids a great, safe, fun time in camp and instill some values.
That can put a whole lot of pressure on you with your program which is so unnecessary. My kids go to camp right now--I know all the day camp directors in the area--and I have stopped worrying about the little bits. It’s “What camp director do I trust most with my kids?” And that’s where my kids go. I don’t care how big their soccer fields are or how big their pool is. Young directors have to motivate themselves with this mission, but in reality we’re not--we’re planting little seeds. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
The best advice I got was from Jerry [Huncosky, CEO at Frost Valley]: You have to realize that at camp, nothing can possibly happen that you can’t take care of together by either you, help with your supervisor or that you can’t deal with with your team.
I also learned that when you’re hiring that many people you know if they have the spark or they don’t in the first 30 seconds. The rest of the interview is getting to know them a little bit and reaffirming what you saw in the first 30 seconds.
I have a very practical, black-and-white approach to everything.
The Summer Camp Society is a semester-long learning cooperative for emerging camp professionals designed and facilitated by Sarah Kurtz McKinnon and Jack Schott. We empower emerging leaders to give all kids the best possible camp experience.
The first cohort group will start the program in September 2017. Join us--we are accepting applications now through June 1. Click here to learn more.