**Apologies for the truly terrible quality of photos in this, they’re mainly downloaded from facebook!
I’ve been at camp for a few weeks now so it’s probably about time I started to document my experience.
For those who haven’t been to or worked on a summer camp before, you might find my description of my experience a bit cheesy or hard to understand as a lot of it is down to matter of perspective. Those of you who have been before, you will know exactly what I mean by saying camp is a bubble. It’s a home away from home with a totally separate family who mean just as much as your blood relatives. And even though it’s a job, it’s also an escape from reality.
Lots of people who go to camp, or write about their experience have more often than not been in a counseling role. It’s the most popular role for anyone to choose when they work on a summer camp, however my experience offers a different perspective as I am a member of support staff. Support or Misc staff (Most Important Staff on Camp, obviously) are the people who help camps run in the background, be that in kitchen, maintenance or office roles, etc. My role is as Office Assistant for the second year running at the mighty ISTC (International Sports Training Camp) in PA. In my role as office assistant I do a lot of administration indoors, so considering I live and work with nearly 200 staff and 300 campers per week, it can be a little isolating. So this may lead some of you to think, well, why choose to do that then when you could be running around with the kids all day playing games and sports? Well, plot twist, I am starting to consider this too.
Don’t get me wrong, being support staff has it’s perks. I wake up at 8, have a hearty breakfast, go for a run around our 100 acre lake, use the gym, do some yoga in the sun, shower, then kick back for a few hours before starting work at 2. It’s a dream.
*Disclaimer, not all support roles are as leisurely as mine!
But I started to notice pretty early on that the counseling/coaching experience was a different one from my own, as they get to spend their days in the sun, mixing with different people, creating bonds and making the kid’s experiences one to remember. I found my experience to be very different, all because I picked a role where I wouldn’t necessarily have been the centre of attention. The great news is is that I no longer feel as though I’m a person who wants to hide away and operate in the background, which is why I feel writing about my personal transition due to my camp experience is valuable for many in the same position I was. I am not lying when I say it’s hard work; days are long and you find yourself very quickly burnt out and exhausted, but is also an escape from reality, you can go and become whoever you want to be.
With little or regulated access to TV, internet and phones and living in close quarters with another 10+ people, you are forced to be more social than you would at home. For someone like me, I had never lived away from home, with friends, away for uni or anything of the sort, so living with 19 other girls in my first year was truly new to me. This is the first step you take to creating some of the closest relationships you’ve ever had in your life. You live under each others feet, so privacy quickly becomes a luxury you have to let go. Doing this also helps you to become more patient, sharing and open with your peers which is a great trait to seeming like a more welcoming and friendly person, essential for bonding with all the other staff you live with. It also takes away all the social boundaries you are used to at home as you can’t just go and hide in your room, and so helps you to feel more comfortable in these types of situations, which can help to break down a few personal barriers when it comes to socializing.
It’s through this that you create the bonds that stay with you for life. I found myself just this week explaining that camp friendships are unlike any other. Come September I’ll be going to visit friends who I met in 2016, who I won’t have seen for over a year, and I was asked ‘Isn’t it weird that you’re just going to meet someone you’ve not seen for so long?’
The answer is absolutely effing not, I’m beyond excited, because it’s like being reunited with family. We all have a unique thing in common and that is that we were all thrown together to experience the ups and down’s of one crazy summer and that never leaves you.
Making friends from allover the world is another huge perk of coming to camp. Worldwide travel seemed like a faraway dream for me when I was in my teens, something that only the privileged or brave did. But it’s much more within reach than I could have ever imagined, especially now as I have people and places to visit in numerous different countries worldwide. Many people also choose to travel together after camp or move on together to something new, and these were complete strangers only a few months before!
Of course, it’s not just living and working together that help us bond. My camp in particular goes out of it’s way to make sure we mix together and get to know each other, by offering 2 weeks of orientation activities which includes dodge ball, square dancing, lip-sync battles, ice breakers and games which completely invade your personal space (if you know about Huggybear you know what I mean). Not only this but on our days off we share crazy nights out, days relaxing in the sun and taking road trips to neighboring states and cities. Have you ever gone halfway across the world to a college town in New Jersey and seen someone you went to school with? Or ended up in a dodgy bar in Philly having the time of your life getting down to drake? Or floated down a river in a blow up pool?
When first getting involved in these things last year it was safe to say I was feeling wall-flowerish. This year, returning knowing I was going to see all my old friends I couldn’t wait to be at the forefront of it all, and got stuck right in by being the front-woman of my cabin’s lipsync band in the first week.
Feeling like I wanted to get right in at the deep end when I arrived is what triggered me to start thinking I wasn’t the person I was when I first arrived the previous year.
I’ve found myself much more keen to be involved rather than happy to sit back and oversee, and wanting to do more than I ever thought would be possible in life; like travelling the world. Now I’m doing it I wonder what my doubts ever were in the beginning. It’s also from this that I feel more ready to be in a role more involved in the excitement and fun the kids all flock to summer camps for.
Putting my anxieties behind me and pursuing exciting adventures has been the best decision I’ve ever made; not to be way cliche but I could say I’ve actually started to find myself. I know what I like, what I want to do, where I want to be; before I was just living my life through other people.
Here you are actively encouraged to be a person who leaves all ideas and conceptions of yourself behind and to completely immerse yourself in all that’s offered to you. You have to be willing to be crazy, silly and make a fool of yourself because honestly if you don’t let go and do these things, why are you even here! It’s here I’ve learned not to care what people think of me, whilst simultaneously learning that people don’t really care what I’m doing! It’s here I’ve learned how to befriend and live with multiple strangers and how to be an active and more involved person and for this I am genuinely happier. And I can put all of this personal growth down to coming to camp. If you were considering doing a summer abroad, I implore you to do it, it’s the best decision you could make for yourself.