Kim Petyt sometimes wonders who is getting more out of being a Girl Scout, she or her daughter?

 

If you came to visit me in Paris nearly 4 years ago to the day, you would’ve found me in a Jil Sander ball gown and 1500 euro Louis Vuitton heels, standing on a ginormous gilded fireplace in a stately Parisian chateau-cum-5* hotel, a bouquet of flowers in one arm, a bottle of Veuve Cliquot in the other. I was being photographed for an article for The New York Times T Magazine, where they would dub me “The Fixer”- for my ability to orchestrate flawless weddings and events for Americans in Paris with the wedding planning agency that I had created.

Kim in her days as a Parisian wedding planner in an article written on her by the New York Times

Kim in her days as a Parisian wedding planner in an article written on her by the New York Times

 

These days, you might still find me in a French chateau, but instead of dressed to the nines sporting flowers and champagne, you’re more likely to find me outside on the grounds of the chateau, sitting around a campfire, singing songs and making s’mores. Yes, I traded in the fast-paced, hectic, emotionally draining yet incredibly rich, creative and satisfying world of wedding planning, for the little bit slower-paced, hectic, emotionally draining yet incredibly rich, creative and satisfying world of Girl Scouting!

Paris Girl Scouts

Nowadays, you’ll be more apt to find her around a campfire or hiking with her troop

You see, 4 years ago, once the clock on that gilded fireplace struck 12:00 (noon) – my ball gown morphed into jeggings, my LV’s into NB’s- and my chauffeured car into a Paris Navigo metro pass, as I hustled out to pick my kids up from school. A short while later, after nearly a decade of juggling my professional and family lives- and publishing a book to boot- I burned out. I took a break from the wedding planning world. I needed to reconnect with my family and myself and thought that Girl Scouts would be a great way for my daughter and I to bond.

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I knew that US Girl Scouts existed in France because I had seen them at different American cultural events around the city over the years. At that time, I still thought Girl Scouts was all about Campfires and Cookies, so when I found out that there wasn’t a troop near our home, but was given the “opportunity” to start my own troop…let’s just say I didn’t exactly jump for joy.

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Ask anyone who knows me, “Girl Scout” doesn’t exactly come to mind, although when I was a little girl, I actually wanted to be a Scout. Even at 10 years old, the “type A”, OCD in me loved the idea of how everything was so orderly in those handbooks, with their great graphics and happy, useful girls in pristine uniforms. All you had to do was follow the steps and you’d be rewarded with perfectly round badges that you could sew into nice even rows on your uniform. I would buy used handbooks at the church bizaar and read them cover to cover, learning (in my head) things like how to sew, fix a flat tire, and cook a fish over a campfire. The problem was that my mother wasn’t into the Scouting idea, so I never actually learned to do those sorts of things in real life. In reality, as I grew up I was never particularly drawn to the outdoors (unless it was gazing upon it from a fabulous 4 star suite), and I barely knew how to cook on a Whirlpool Range, let alone over an open fire. But then I moved to Paris and had children. Franco- AMERICAN children, one of whom was a girl.

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Kim Girlscouts-001

When I first started looking into Girl Scouts for my daughter, it was to help keep up her English as well as to keep her in touch with American culture. As I reluctantly set about starting up our troop, I was over-the-moon to find that while today’s Girl Scouts still go camping, do crafts, and even sell cookies (although not in France. More on that later*) the modern program is based around helping young girls and women to develop leadership skills by discovering their strengths, passions and talents. Badges for Cooking, Jewelry Making and First Aid sit equally alongside those for Philanthropy, Product Design and Budgeting. So while I would have to occasionally suck it up and sleep in a tent, I could also work with the girls at my own comfort level by sharing my skills and experiences as a business owner and entrepreneur.

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USA Girl Scouts Overseas has a presence in over 90 countries worldwide. Some of these locations are affiliated with the military. Those girls are American and live, go to school and socialize within a closed American community. Since many of these military families move around a lot, Girl Scouts Overseas is a great way to give girls continuity and familiarity amongst the change. For non-military, civilian locations like France, troops can be made up of American girls whose families are fully integrated into their “host” country or girls enrolled in international and American schools The girls in my troop, for example, all have at least one American parent (typically the mom), go to local, French-speaking schools and live in bilingual households. For many Girl Scouts in Paris, other than spending a few weeks in the US during summer vacation, their monthly troop meetings are the only connection to America that they have all year.

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Besides the language linking them, these girls bond on other levels as well. They learn that they’re not the only ones with “loud” moms with horrible accents who insist on bringing inappropriately colored and MUCH-too-sweet treats to school fêtes. They’re also not the only ones who get “volunteered” to clean up after parties or help elderly neighbors with their gardens (like other countries I suppose, France doesn’t have the same sense of “community” as middle America). Most importantly, once in USA Girl Scouts Overseas, girls learn that many of the “unfair” (read: chauvinistic) ideas that they’re subjected to in France or other countries (i.e. girls aren’t good at math or sports, cooking and ironing are women’s work, engineering and IT are “boys jobs”, while teaching and marketing are “for girls”…) are NOT normal and they don’t have to buy into it.

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Lately, the “Disrupt The Pink Aisle” movement- (the call for an end to gender-targeted toy marketing and more empowering toys for girls) and the emphasis for more STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) for girls, has swept across the U.S. I don’t think France will be hopping on the bandwagon any time soon, though. The French view of the sexes is just different than from what I’m used to in the Sates, and while I find certain ideas and situations downright shocking, I’m not French and that’s not a battle that I’m willing to fight. My priorities are on my own children and all I know is that I want my cool, intelligent, talented, outspoken and strong daughter to never doubt for a moment that she can be a kick-ass leader (if she chooses to be) and the best place for her to learn that is by being a USA Girl Scout. The fact that she has a blast, tries new things and is making lifelong friends along the way are added bonuses!

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There ARE downsides to being a Girl Scout in Paris. Because of the long school days (8:15AM – 5:00PM in some schools) and the fact that many schools either have ½ days or no school on Wednesdays, plus the pretty extensive school holiday calendar, most troops are only able to meet once a month. That means that our girls essentially have only 9 meetings a year (compared to 15 or more meetings a year for many of their US based Sister Scouts.

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As I mentioned, France doesn’t have the same history of volunteerism as in the States, so many of our efforts to find community service opportunities outside of the American community in Paris are often frowned upon. The upside is that when we do find a local agency willing to accept our assistance, we work really hard to maintain those links in order to create future opportunities for other girls. Laws in France are also different- many places don’t accept volunteers under the age of 18, so we have to get creative with the way we volunteer (rather than work AT a soup kitchen, our girls might help sort or bag up donated items on another day, away from the clients).

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US Girl Scouts in Paris do not sell cookies. Let me say that one more time for the ladies in the back- Girl Scouts in Paris do NOT sell cookies. Because each country has their own import/export regulations, it’s too difficult to coordinate cookie deliveries for the Overseas Girl Scout locations that don’t have a U.S. military presence. The military locations have APO/AE addresses so the shipments are treated as standard American mail. We don’t have that luxury. When it comes to earning their Financial Literacy Badges (those created around the Girl Scout Cookie program), creativity kicks in again. For instance, last year our troop made cupcakes based on traditional Girl Scout cookie flavors and sold them during lunchtime in an office boardroom at the OECD.

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Speaking of the OECD, one of the many benefits of being a Girl Scout in Paris is access to the incredible, historical locations that the city has to offer. We’ve celebrated World Thinking Day at UNESCO, marched in parades down the Champs Elysees (and placed flowers at the tomb of the unknown soldier beneath the Arc de Triomphe). Girls can hold meetings at the Chateau de Versailles, the Louvre, on the banks of the Seine or beneath the Eiffel Tower. So, what we miss out in quantity of troop meetings, we definitely are able to make up for in quality.

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Never one to do things half-way, in addition to being my daughter’s Troop Leader, I’ve since taken on more of a leadership role in Girl Scouts in Paris. I’m the current Co-Chair of the Overseas Committee, and wear Community Liaison, PR and Social Media Diva crowns as well. Volunteering with Girl Scouts has helped me to stay engaged, as I’ve transitioned from full-time wedding & event planning to my next adventure. It’s helped me to challenge myself as a mother and as a leader (you’ve never had to use “communication skills” until you’ve had to explain to your 6 yr old and a half dozen wailing Daisy Scouts why their baby avocado plant died in the middle of January. In Paris.). Through the organization’s training programs I’ve learned more about collaborating multi-generationally, conflict resolution, volunteer management and how to build a campfire (finally!)

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anna maria chavez

Kim and Anna Maria Chávez, the Chief Executive Officer of the Girl Scouts of the USA and the first Latina to head the organization worldwide

 

 

 

This past fall, I was extremely lucky to have been chosen to be one of 5 USA Girl Scouts Overseas adult delegates to the National Convention and Council Session in Utah. It was an amazing experience that helped me to see beyond our local Girl Scout Neighborhood to the bigger picture of what Girl Scouting brings to girls. Listening to the self-confident, intelligent and eloquent girls from all over the world inspired me. Girl Scouts is a BEGINNING for our girls living overseas- a beginning to discovering who they are, what they can do and who they can become. USA Girl Scouts Overseas isn’t only a social link to America. What a girl learns from her time in Girl Scouts can change the course of her life. I know because volunteering with USA Girl Scouts Overseas has done the same for me.

 

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