5 ways that foreign-based BSA troops do things differently (and one way they don’t)

Geoffrey Morris (standing) with Scottish Scouts at Kandersteg International Scout Centre in Switzerland. (Courtesy of Geoffrey Morris)

They’ve camped on the D-Day beaches of Normandy, snowshoed across the Swiss Alps and hiked up volcanoes in Japan — all without a single transatlantic or transpacific flight.

For BSA families living outside of the United States, the Scouting adventures continue uninterrupted as members of the Transatlantic Council, Far East Council or Direct Service district of the National Capital Area Council.

It’s a good reminder to any Scouting families who choose to relocate to another country, either permanently or temporarily: Your Scouting adventures don’t have to end when you leave.

These overseas BSA families might include armed forces personnel, diplomats, expats and even businesspeople working abroad. While they might be an ocean away from their U.S.-based counterparts, these Scouts are still Scouts — eligible to earn the same awards and recognition as all other BSA members.

That’s the big similarity between overseas BSA units and those living stateside. The Cub Scout Adventures, Scouts BSA merit badges, and Venturing and Sea Scouting awards are exactly the same.

But there are plenty of differences, too. Just like a Scouts BSA troop in Portland, Ore., will have a different experience from one in Portland, Maine, these overseas Scouts add their own special flavor to their Scouting adventures.

Today, we wanted to share five such examples. By learning how we’re different, we’ll see there’s even more to celebrate about our shared Scouting story.

Scouts from the United Arab Emirates pose with an interfaith service project that brings together Buddhist, Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu and Mormon speakers. (Courtesy of Mary-Elizabeth Diab)

1. Scouting across languages

Some BSA units in other countries hold meetings in more than one language. That makes sense when you consider that many countries have more than one official language, such as Canada (French and English), Belgium (Dutch, French and German) and South Africa (English and Afrikaans).

But even in troops where every member speaks English, there’s often a desire to find other ways to communicate. Case in point: Troop 44, based in Stuttgart, Germany. Troop 44 assistant Scoutmaster Geoffrey Morris sent us this post idea.

A self-proclaimed “military brat,” Morris was a Scout in Japan, Germany and Italy as his family traveled to different assignments. Now, as an adult volunteer in Germany, he’s continuing to give back to the movement he believes in.

Morris and the Troop 44 Scouts enjoy sharing adventures with troops who are members of other national Scout organizations. They have camped alongside German Pfadfinders, Spanish Exploradores and others.

“Something I’ve found that’s excellent for cultural exchange is splitting up units and mixing together kids from both units,” he says. “This works especially well when we do competitions.”

When planning one of those competitions, the Scouts look for games that don’t require as much verbal communication, such as the human knot.

“That way, every member is forced to speak the same language: pantomiming and gesturing,” Morris says. “It leads to incredible teamwork.”

We should also point out that you don’t have to be an American to join one of these Transatlantic Council, Far East Council or Direct Service units. Foreign-based BSA units can — and do! — recruit youth who are also living outside their home country.

Troop 156 visits Florence, Italy, and takes a picture with members of the Florentine Guard. (Courtesy of Laura Blair)

2. Awe-inspiring field trip opportunities

Families living in the U.S. save for years to afford a European vacation and an opportunity to visit the legendary museums, castles and landmarks of Europe’s top tourist destinations.

But for members of BSA units living overseas, many of those destinations can become day trips.

Pack 130 of Geneva, for example, takes hikes at the world-famous ski resort of Chamonix, France, just an hour’s drive away. Troop 35 of Japan summits Mount Fuji every year. Troop 44 of Germany camped near the site of the Berlin Wall during the 30th anniversary of the wall coming down.

Though cancelled in 2021 because of the pandemic, some of the favorite trips for Transatlantic Council Scouts are attending their winter Klondike Derby and summer Camp Alpine Scout Camp, held at the Kandersteg International Scout Centre, which hosts a “permanent year-round jamboree.”

”Scouts from every corner of the globe come to visit, climbing the Swiss mountains, sliding down those same mountains on an alpine roller coaster, hanging out at the weekly cookout parties hosted by the staff and warming themselves at the fire,” Morris says.

3. Public transportation access

While this may be foreign to some statesiders, Scouting families in Europe and Asia travel to many meetings and events by train.

It’s easy to see the appeal. Anyone who has driven Scouts three or four hours to a weekend camping destination would certainly prefer to kick back in the quiet car. The train ride would give that leader a chance to read, work or enjoy a Scoutmaster’s favorite pastime: nap.

For larger events, like camporees or council work weekends, the Transatlantic Council will even shuttle Scouts and Scouters from the nearest train station to the weekend’s camping location. Talk about convenience.

Scouts from Troop 36 of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, camp at the Alwathba Fossil Dunes.

4. Incredible destinations

Pack 5 in Tokyo spent the night in Wakasu Seaside Park in the shadow of the Tokyo Gate Bridge.

Troop 36 of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, camped near the otherworldly formations at the Al Wathba Fossil Dunes, formed by the wind and hardened over time.

Units associated with military bases often get to tour those facilities. Navy ships and aircraft carriers are especially popular.

“When I was a Wolf Scout, we got to take a tour of the USS George Washington,” Morris says. “We all got to shadow a bridge team member and learn the job.”

And Scouts enjoy exploring these BSA-approved historic trails in Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, and United Kingdom.

These opportunities aren’t just for Cub Scouts or members of Scouts BSA. Like the Ancient Greek mariners of old, Sea Scouts ply the Mediterranean waters, with hopes of forming more Transatlantic Council ships across the region.

Elsewhere, Troop 107 of Wiesbaden, Germany, cleaned grave markers at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France, a World War I cemetery where more than 14,000 Americans are buried.

Speaking of cemeteries, many Transatlantic Council units do more than perform service projects at them.

“It may come as a shock how often Scouts camp in cemeteries, but we do that all the time in the TAC,” Morris says. “This is almost always followed up with a service project.”

These units prove that if there’s a place where Scouts can camp, they will camp there.

5. Unusual weather

That troop from Abu Dhabi we mentioned earlier? They only camp from November to March.

All other times, it’s way too hot.

“After April, the temperature can reach 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit), and the humidity is 75% to 80%,” says Scouter Sameera Baig. “It feels like boiling, baking and roasting all in one.”

Other units brave extreme Arctic cold, stay on alert for sandstorms, and monitor things like tsunami warnings and volcanic eruptions.

Ready to learn more? Continue your journey at the websites of the Transatlantic Council, Far East Council or Direct Service district of the National Capital Area Council.

About Bryan Wendell 3140 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.