I spent three summers working at a summer camp in sunny California, as part of my travels. When I first decided to do it, it was more because I wanted to travel, but I didn’t have a lot of money. Working at a summer camp seemed like a good start; a way to get on a plane without needing much money to get me there. But what started as just a job and a plane ticket, became so much more.
I quit my job in a PR agency (a pretty good job, especially as a recent graduate) and I got on a plane to California. I was pretty anxious about how the summer would go. I thought it would be fun, but if what I had seen on TV and movies was correct, I would be surrounded by ridiculously upbeat and brash Americans 24/7 while trying to look after and entertain rich Silicon Valley kids. A slightly irritating idea for a somewhat reserved British girl.
To be honest, my initial ideas were pretty close. However it was so much more than that. Yes a lot of the counsellors were over-the-top; singing, being silly, using odd sarcasm, at every opportunity. But it was ok. It was more than ok. I became one of those counsellors. This is probably the only place that you can get sucked into being exactly the same. Sure there was the odd one or two counsellors that would always take it a bit too far, but seeing the kids respond to those weird chants, or silly skits; you couldn’t help but get involved. You could be as ridiculous as you liked without judgement. Well little judgement.
The kids meant so much more. Don’t get me wrong I always liked kids, I just wasn’t completely sold on the idea of working with kids. But teaching them was an amazing experience. Watching them grow over a week or even nine weeks; without sounding completely cliched, it was an incredible experience. The kids we looked after made that summer. Without them we were just a bunch of young people on holiday. They made it, dare I say; ‘meaningful’. You really felt like you were making a difference, even if they now can’t remember my name. They were hilarious, so adorable, albeit a pain in the arse some times. They looked up to you, and made you want to be better.
The Counsellors. I made some life-long friends over those two summers. Because I am still travelling, I don’t get to see a lot of them. However I still keep in touch with a few of them that I was closest to. Recently an old friend from camp came to Canada, after not seeing him for a year, and it was like we had never been apart. We still Skype now. If you do a summer at camp you will leave feeling like you have found your best friends. Working together 24/7 in quite a high pressure environment will bring you extremely close with your fellow counsellors, although you may end up wanting to kill some of them. It sounds weird that you would know someone for just 3 months and feel like you were best friends, but it really does happen. You also make friends with people all over the world. I now have friends all over America, Australia, Germany and more. Not only are they people that you can hit up for a couch if you are travelling through, but some of my favourite people from camp are not from my home country. It breaks down every stereotype you may have had before leaving the country. FYI Germans are hilarious!
The work. The work is hard and tiring. We would have one night off a week 6pm-11pm and one 24hour period a week. The rest of the time you are ‘on’ pretty much 24/7. When you have been up all night with a child projectile vomiting and have to wake everyone else up at 7am, it can be quite trying. There are times when all you want to do is shut your door and collapse on your bed, but instead you have to keep smiling. However, I would swap working in an office 9-5, to be running around a soccer pitch, or helping a child hit a bullseye on the archery field, any day. You basically get paid to play with kids, you get to act like a kid again, it’s just fun.
Social Life. Considering we only got 1.5 days off a week, we made them count. Yes the counsellors drink on their days off. How much I think depends on the people you are with, and their age. My first summer we didn’t drink all that much, compared with my second year, where there was a lot of drinking. As long as you don’t drink on campus and you are ready to work the next day, and believe me you do not want to work with a hangover, then you are pretty much ok. There was also quite a few camp ‘relationships’ most of them being fleeting holiday flings, but there are also the odd exceptions that have made it work and are still together now. Generally though, put a bunch of young people in the same place working together 24/7, they are going to get it on. Just no PDA in front of the kids, or when you are working at all.
Summer camp is honestly one of the most amazing experiences I have had. It’s hard work, it’s tiring, but aside from being ridiculously fun, it is extremely rewarding. If you are thinking about doing it, do. You won’t regret it.