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Bangkok Faces: Merritt Gurley, Camp Director, Camp Sun Bear

Your Name: Merritt Gurley

Job Title: Camp Director, Camp Sun Bear (formerly Thailand Summer Camps)

What is your nationality and background?

I’m an American, but as the daughter of a diplomat, I grew up bouncing across the world. I’ve lived in areas of Thailand, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Switzerland, and I’m proud to be a third-culture adult, or whatever you call third-culture kids once they’ve grown up. As a kid I attended ISB, NIST and RIS, and to date I’ve lived in Bangkok twice as long as I’ve lived in any other city. Through all of my travels, I’ve always considered Thailand my home, and I’m thrilled to be raising my own family here.

What is your profession?

I’m the camp director for Camp Sun Bear.

What are the key skills and responsibilities of this role?

Organizing and operating educational outdoor sleep-away programs for kids in Thailand.

How did you get involved in your profession?

Though the camp is brand-new, just launching this summer, the idea dates back two decades. I spent two magical weeks at a rustic summer camp in Thailand in 1993 but when my sister Kat, who is 10 years younger than me, tried to find the same camp in 2010, we were disappointed to discover that it had shut down.

We looked for alternatives but it seemed that every other program was hosted by either a school or a hotel, which just wasn’t what Kat had in mind. She wanted to go to the kind of camp she’d seen in TV shows, where she could explore the wilderness, meet kids from other schools and roast marshmallows by a campfire. We decided to team up with the adventure experts at the Wild Lodge, an eco-resort in the hills of Khao Yai, to launch our own summer camp, giving Bangkok kids an escape from city life and a character-building experience. The first program will run this June 22-26, and June 29-July 3.

How does your role enhance the wellbeing or experience of children?

Summer camp is wonderful for child development. It broadens their worldview and sets them down the path to becoming open-minded, adventurous and empathetic adults.

When kids step away from their normal routine, from their peer groups at school, and from their parents, they have the chance to see themselves in a new light, and maybe even to surprise themselves. These moments of self-discovery during independent travel help fuel personal development and maturity. Summer camp provides a mix of physical activity, creative expression and teamwork: the building blocks for self-esteem. The skills nurtured during this time away from home will prepare them for challenges later in life.

At our camps, kids will breathe fresh air, spend the afternoons learning new skills through fun activities, and then gorge on fireside feasts each night. Friendships will be forged, confidence will soar, and cherished memories will be made. Particularly for city kids, the unstructured play and the chance to connect with each other and with the stunning natural environment instead of with their smart phones, is deeply enriching.

What challenges do your face in this role?

We want to make sure the program is as fun and education for children as possible, and flexible enough to accommodate kids of various skill and comfort levels.

What do you hope to achieve within your industry?

I would love to give every child in Bangkok the chance to spend five days at our program in Khao Yai, developing an appreciation of nature and building personal confidence.

Who or what inspires you?

[The late] Mrs. Lee A. Rhodes inspires me. She was the founder of the horse-back riding camp in Kanchanaburi that I attended when I was a child. The two weeks I spent there helped form the nature-loving person I am today. Mrs. Rhodes moved from Germany to Thailand in 1924, when she was only eight years old, and she dedicated her life to nurturing horses and providing outdoor education opportunities for children. She was a true adventurous spirit and community leader.

Only a Bangkok local would know…

They serve the best boat-noodle soup and birds-eye curry at Bharani on Sukhumvit 23.

For more information, please visit www.campsunbear.com.

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