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I recently took my family on an overseas trip. As part of this once in a lifetime vacation, we planned to visit scout offices with our sons. If you are visiting a nation’s capital or other large city, the odds are that there is a scout facility you can visit. We made some new friends, bought patches and spread some goodwill. Taking your children to an overseas scout store or scout office is an enlightening experience. Some advance planning is needed for a smooth visit. Here are a few suggestions for incorporating a scout office visit on your next vacation or weekend trip. These same tips apply if you are traveling within the United States.
Before you go, identify the scouting organization where you are traveling. Verify that the organization is a member of the World Organization of the Scout Movement. The internet makes this easy. Every accredited scouting organization has a web page loaded with information. You can also find information on social media. The key is interpreting that information correctly and overcoming language barriers.
Remember that in other countries scouting is organized differently. In Belgium for example, scouting is largely organized around religious beliefs. Some countries have “ex-pat” programs where, for example, people from the United Kingdom living in Belgium conduct a UK scouting program for their children. Do your research to ensure the organization you are going to visit is one that interests you.
Like the United States, most counties have three primary scout facilities. You can typically find a scout store, a scout office and scout program facility such as a camp. Make sure which of these locations you going to visit. It is not always obvious from the internet. Remember that, like the U.S., not all facilities are in the same location. In central London for example, the “Baden Powell House” maintains a small store that sells scout patches but it is in fact a conference center and not a scout office.
Make sure you can find you way. The Scout Association of the Bahamas has an office in Nassau but it is not in an obvious location and is not an area frequented by tourists. Use Google Earth to map the location of the facility and use the “Street View” feature to know the building where you are going. Use a translation feature like “Google Translate” to ensure you understand what type of facility you are visiting. Of course, use common sense and be safe.
Call beforehand and make sure the store, office or camp will be open when you can visit. Do not assume that offices and stores will be open according to posted internet schedules, particularly in the summer. Make sure that visitors are allowed. Try to make an appointment for your approximate arrival time. Professional scout staff and volunteers are busy people in every country. While courteous, they may not be able to devote a long period of time to you in an unannounced visit. Be respectful of the time you are given.
Plan an adequate amount of time for your visit. Make time to browse and make a few purchases. Take pictures in front of signs or flags. Make time to speak to professional staff, volunteers and scouts that you meet. Talk to everyone you can. Ask about the uniforms, insignia, and activities that scouts participate in other countries. Try and learn some key phrases in the local language to talk about scouting. Share a few of your own scout stories. Have your son do the same.
Whether you like it or not, if you show up in a scout office in another country, you are an ambassador of Boy Scouts of America, your council and unit. People will make assumptions and draw conclusions about scouting based on how you and your children act. Be respectful and act in accordance with scouting principles. Do not leave a foreign scouter with the impression that American Scouts are anything less than the best.
Find out if the local organization is hosting any scouting events that you can attend or observe, even if only for a few minutes. Bring your uniform, shirt or scout hat if possible. Bring some patches. Before we left, I purchased several SKCBSA council strips and other patches. We did some trading and were immediately given tokens in return.
When you return, talk about your visit with scouters. Scouting is an international brotherhood. Do you best to learn as much as you can.