GSNI Alumna, Caroline Elkin, shares her story of how her involvement in Girl Scouts as young girl impacted her decision to study abroad in Russia today. View photos from her travels here.
Girl Scouts was a fundamental part of my childhood, from cookie sales to badges to bridging ceremonies, and all the traditions and fun times in between. The memories that have stuck in my head ever since, though, are centered around campfires, dining halls, covered wagons, and idolizing counselors from afar: overnight camp. I spent February afternoons longing desperately to see the summer camp brochure in the car when my mom picked me up from school. Why the passion? Aside from fun and nature, I loved the chance to be independent and to practice different ways of being.
Along with Girl Scouts, a childhood constant was a fixation on Russian history and culture that manifested in some very over-dramatic journal entries around age eleven, swearing I’d travel there someday. Well, here I am, a junior at Dickinson College, double majoring in International Studies and Russian. For the 2014-2015 school year, I am studying abroad at Russian State University for the Humanities in Moscow. I take all classes in Russian, volunteer and work with Russians, and live with a Russian host mother.
I firmly believe that Girl Scouts, and overnight camp in particular, formed my desire to take such a huge step, as well as my ability to succeed here. Interacting with counselors from around the world, and with girls from completely different socioeconomic backgrounds, taught me so much more than typical school could about sensitivity and learning from others as a daily habit, not some lofty and impossible goal. I learned that I could shoot arrows, haul myself into a canoe, and survive picky eating experiences. I learned about planning ahead, reasonable precautions, and my motto to this day--”be prepared.”
Moreover, I learned how to make friends with strangers--be open, show that you care about other people--and comfort them. I learned that it’s okay to change, but that you need to hold some kind of core values. I discovered that the world is an immense and wonderful place, and that we need to experience and love it.
These skills have been so important to my life in Russia. Throughout the adventures I’ve been extremely lucky to have--seeing the Romanov’s palaces in St. Petersburg, befriending Russian students, discovering and building upon academic interests, interning and volunteering with inspiring people--the sense of capability that Girl Scouts helped me develop has been necessary to that first step: looking outside my window at a hectic Moscow morning and believing, always, that I can do it.
Girl Scouts also taught me the value of self-respect. There was never a specific badge or campfire song that made me believe in this, but through the environment of never doubting girls, of teaching us to explore and learn and do things for ourselves, habits formed. These were what helped me survive the rocky times--food poisoning, petty conflicts, frustrations--that could have made me pack my bags. Instead I resolved to fight not only other’s preconceived notions, but my own. I became a more open and courageous person.
So here’s my parting words: parents and other adults, believe me, even if your daughter isn’t a perfect follower of the Girl Scout Law at this very moment, every amount of energy you expend on helping her have these experiences is worth it.
Fellow Girl Scouts, all I can say is this: pursue the journey. You live in a glorious and fascinating world. Explore it.