How Working at Summer Camp Will Change Your Life
So, you're thinking of working on a Summer Camp? Go for it, I won't stop you! But, before you start throwing deposits and references all over the place, take the time to read from the experience of a soon-to-be 5th Year International Councelor; You're about to make a terrible decision (hear me out...)
Why? I mean, how bad could it be? You'll get paid to spend two months living for free and having fun on a camp, two months building unbreakable friendships and of course; 2 months of building that perfect tan! What's not to like? Well, nothing, which is exactly the problem.
Meet The Real You
If you choose to work at a summer camp, you will absolutely have the time of your life, but you'll come back changed; Your career will have become a job, your home will have become a house and your all important five year a plan will probably have been thrown under a bus. Your world will suddenly feel small and slow, you'll feel lost for a short time, as if your entire being has just become confused with its direction, but all this is ok... in fact, its better than ok, its amazing; because, through camp, you will have just met the most incredible and important person in the World; you've just met 'The Real You'.
This may not make a lot of sense, surly you've always been 'you', right? In a way, yes, but you have different versions of yourself depending on the situation right? At home you are 'Version I', at work you are 'Version II', with friends you are 'Version III', get the idea? Well, at camp, you are the original, mint condition, collector's edition of yourself. You may not even realise that you've changed, but once you're home, others will notice a difference; after a Summer of running activities, looking after kids, planning events and leading projects, you will have gained 'the unmeasurables', a set of qualities that subtly tell anyone you meet that you are totally in command of yourself and everything you set your mind to.
How I Got Started
The process may be daunting, but nothing worthwhile is easy. Take my case and you'll have no excuse; In 2013, I was 20 years old and had never left the UK, never been on a plane and never been on a trip lasting over 2 weeks. After searching the web for a way to travel, I stumbled on summer camps; something grabbed my attention and I followed the process, I completed the application with Camp Leaders, I found the flights and did everything right up to the point where I had to commit money. That’s where I faltered. It took me about a month to decide to pay the deposit, then it was real, I was going abroad! I never truly thought it would happen, doubting every step of the way;
I'll never get accepted, surly;
I'll never get placed, no way!
I'll never get a contract, not a chance;
Time and time again I was proven wrong, after the interviews, applications, forms and payments, I was suddenly in the airport with a giant bag and a pile of papers that felt far too important to be in my possession. I had nerves that would have made Cowardly Lion blush, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but, I was doing it, and it felt incredible.
Arrival at Camp
Once arriving on the other side, everything was a blur, from terminal to cabin, thrust into a small space in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of total strangers, but everyone hit it off immediately, there was so much common ground from the outset simply as we had all been through exactly the same process to make it this far. We spent the first night getting unpacked into the cabins while introducing ourselves and getting to know each other. Then there were the returners, I'd never encountered such a strange collection of people, in fact they were beyond strange, running around, singing songs, laughing at antics and events from previous Summers and generally acting as if they were drunk, in a way they were, drunk on camp (Little did I know that I would be acting much the same following Summer).
Role as a Camp Counselor
Fast forward again, half way through the Summer, things are going great, at first I was overwhelmed by the tsunami of children charging up the hill to the cabins, I had to learn half a hundred names, run activities, organise events and govern a cabin full of 10 year olds, it was all I could do to keep my head screwed on the right way, all around seemed like total chaos. I can't tell you of the moment I figured it all out, I just did, it just clicked. One moment I was in orientation half panicking about how awful I was going to be, the next, I was a councelor in week three of camp.
Half the battle in this place in your head, conquer the anxiety and the worry, and you'll have it.
You'll start getting 'your firsts' in week two, the first time you're asked to tie a shoe lace, the first time they make a drawing for you, the first time they trust you with their favourite toy or their lucky hat. To you, it may be nothing, but to them, its everything, it shows that they are comfortable with you, that they trust you, that they look up to you and want to be more like you. This is when the change happens, you realise that you're no longer here for the cheap living and easy travelling, you're here for them. Even though they may wake you up at the crack of dawn and keep you up till midnight, they may throw food or get into fights on the sports field. Whatever they do, however they feel, you'll be there to guide, help or show them through it.
What You Will Learn
By the time summer comes to an all too sudden end, you'll have made a vast network of new friends and contacts, most of which you feel more comfortable around than many people from your original social circles, whenever you see these people again (and you will), you will immediately convert into one of those strange 'post-camp' people that seem to exist purely to laugh and talk about camp.
But also, you'll have taught someone to swim and someone else to be a good sportsman, you'll have shown a camper how to write a letter to their parents and taught them how to clean up after themselves, how to treat each other fairly. In a world away from their parents and families, you'll have given them the foundation of becoming truly independent. It goes without saying that their parents are irreplaceable of course, but in just a few short weeks you'll be humbled by just how close you came.
You'll come away from a summer job in the USA having changed lives, truly. But you'll also note how those same, sometimes annoying and often hilarious campers have also changed you.
At the start of this article I stated that camp would turn your world upside down, change your priorities and generally be a bad idea for your long term plans; well, take it from me as I start the process for Year Five, you will never, ever, regret a bad decision less than the one you're about to make.
Now take a deep breath, dive in and get ready to meet The Real You.
By Christopher J. Cook
Chris applied through Camp Leaders and went to work at Camp Nock-A-Mixon, an overnight summer camp located in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
Have you ever been to camp? Share your experience in the comments section below.