‘I don’t know what I will do next year because my second mom won’t even be at camp (you.)’ This summer I reached parenthood; a little earlier than expected but that’s what happens these days.
The quote came from a letter a little girl had sent after her session at camp. It’s a dramatic statement, yet it made me tear up a little knowing that I’d finished my last summer there for the foreseeable future and that the goodbyes were real this time. After three years of camp it’s time to move on but it’s thanks to camp that I’ve been able to have such life changing summers.
Summer camps are the popular trend for Americans to send their children to over the school holidays. Worth over $15 billion dollars with growing numbers of participants, the summer camp industry looks to international staff as a way to care for, teach and culture their children at camp. In order to find their staff, third parties have been set up as a way to find the right people for the job and Camp America is one of these.
If you haven’t heard of it already, Camp America is the famous organisation that helps young people get placed as camp counsellors. Every year they receive thousands of applications who are then distributed between thousands of camps who are attended by millions of children across the states. It’s America, so we’re dealing with big numbers here.
Applicants could find themselves teaching soccer at a private camp in Arizona, lifeguarding for Girl Scouts in California or singing round a campfire at an under-privileged camp in New York.
The application process is simple: an online application then a face-to-face interview. Assuming you didn’t come across as potentially dangerous to children, you are then placed into an online ‘pool’ where camps can dive in and choose you. If they get in touch with you, you then get the option of whether to say yes or to instead keep floating around waiting for a more suitable option.
When you are happily hired it’s time to get on with visa applications. Camp America provides a step by step process; just make sure you’re really on top with it, messing up with the American Embassy isn’t fun! Then it’s time to fly and before you know it you’re across the pond, earning dollars, soaking up the sun and having your own life changing camp experience.
I was placed at a private camp in Northern Michigan. For 8 weeks I lived in a forest, in a little wooden cabin, eating, breathing and bunking with 9 year olds. Throughout the day I’d be teaching fencing, horse riding, art and the odd volleyball lesson. In the evening I could be scavenger hunting, food fighting or getting pied in the face for being found in ‘Counsellor Hunt’. On ‘Special Days’ the whole camp would compete in teams to be crowned champion of a soapbox derby race, ‘Mission Impossible’ or ‘Capture the Camp’. At night I’d be getting forced into a karaoke session at the nearby bar, playing real beer pong in a condo or napping in the staff lounge. Not every camp is the same but that’s the gist of mine.
Camp is a special place; 20 year olds can leap around like the 8 year olds and no one judges, in fact it is expected! Pride passes over you when you see one of your campers hit a big kid out in ‘Nuke ‘Em’. The day off parties are like in every movie, like the world has united and it’s to end tomorrow. Every meal time is a riot of chants and dances like you’re part of an undisciplined High School Musical scene. Time stops at camp, there’s no outside world and the only disasters are that your team lost Colour Clash by 70 points.
However, camp is an intense few weeks and has its consequences. The working day is long; even with little breaks I could still end up working a 12 hour day or more, and the work is hard. Being a camp counsellor will test you physically and mentally, requiring all the patience in the world to get you and your campers to survive each day. Teaching 10 kids how to fence without poking eyes out is a challenge. I had to wrestle a sword out of a tantrum-ing girl’s hands. I had to walk a girl who had vomited all over my bottom bunk (and me) at 3am to the infirmary. I battled raccoons that were swarming my bench through a long cabin night duty. I don’t have enough fingers to count the number of times I’ve gotten into arguments with small children; they say “drop the rope” but that’s easier said than done. Oh, and ‘Code Brown’ is not funny.
Camp was not the Holy Grail of jobs for me. It was too hard for that. Yet when every summer came to an end it was always a sad goodbye. I had given children an unforgettable summer, learnt more about myself than through any other job, and I was still alive. That is a very rewarding feeling.
If you think you have what it takes to become a camp counsellor, visit www.campamerica.co.uk to find out more on scoring an incredible 2015 summer job!