So you want to work at Summer Camp?

IMG_1545So you want to work at Summer camp?

As the weather turns colder and we reminisce about warmer times, the first moment that springs to my mind is the fantastic summer I spent working as a lifeguard and swim teacher at summer camp in America.  Back in 2010 I embarked on the trip that would help shape my life over the next couple of years – working at summer camp.  I wanted to share an honest round up of my time at camp so if you’re looking for an all smiles ‘review’ you’re in the wrong place. I’ve met so many people who when you ask them about their time at camp will only tell you the good bits (of which there are A LOT) and none of the bad bits.  I wanted to share my experience with a well rounded view to let anybody who might be thinking about doing this what it’s all about.My journey started when I signed up to Camp Leaders (one of the bigger companies to help get you to camp).  I was lucky to be assigned very quickly to an all girls camp in Maine as a lifeguard and a swim teach.  This was around the January of 2010 and before I knew it, my paperwork was in, my visa had arrived and it was suddenly June and it was time to embark on my journey.  I excitedly boarded my plane – my first solo flight – to Boston and my journey began.

IMG_1757 IMG_1938The Good
Where to start – there is so much to talk about.  Working as a lifeguard/swim teacher I had what most people describe as the best job on camp.  Except for one day (where there was a tornado warning) we were very lucky that year and had 50 days of blazing sunshine (best TAN ever – obviously before I cared so much about ageing!)  It was amazing to be out on the lake everyday with the girls who were some of the most interesting characters I’ve ever met.  It’s funny, being the ‘adult’ gives you this wonderful insight into all your teenage behaviour and how tough teachers and parents have it.  My highlight was when all the lake staff and the older girls got up at 6am one morning to swim across the lake which the camp was based around.  We built up to it across a few weeks and it was a tough task but even some of our weaker swimmers were determined to make it.  I was also a bunk counsellor looking after six of the biggest personalities on camp – six 13 year olds who knew everything and wanted to know everything about me.  I spent 7 weeks as the mother figure of the bunk and they were great and even during some of my ‘rougher’ times they made me smile daily.  Checking for lice twice a week turned out to be quite an experience and it was like stepping back to my own childhood as another counsellor or one of my campers would need to check my hair too!Let’s talk Camp traditions – my gosh there are many!  Every meal time requires a different chant, things are not called by there real name and there are no words to describe parents weekend!  I tried to embrace as many of these traditions as I could – especially cookie line – where at 11am EVERYDAY, everybody on camp got milk and a cookie.  Even though we were there to ‘service’ the campers, we as counsellers got so many experiences as well.  We went on day trips to some beautiful places, we had overnight trips before the campers arrived so we could try some of the activities on offer, camp sleep outs, pizza Fridays… I got to try water skiing, canoeing, kayaking for the first time, and even Quidditch!

Getting to explore Maine was an obvious bonus to summer camp.  Besides planned trips with the campers, we ventured to the small seaside town of Portland on days off (of which there were four all summer by the way!), the outlet village and to some local hiking trails.  I saw some beautiful scenery which I will never forget.

IMG_1946 IMG_1955The Bad

As much as I loved camp life, it wasn’t all sunshine and fun.  It was hard. During the first week when the campers arrived I was very ill and I spent a day and a half in our on site infirmary.  It wasn’t fun and actually put me on the outs with a few of the fellow lifeguards (including my department manager and deputy) who didn’t think I was really ill.  Considering I haven’t faked being ill since I was about fifteen, I took it majorly to heart but now looking back four years later I can see how it must have looked.  Until that point I was active and involved – these people didn’t know me, they didn’t know I was ill (heck I still hadn’t figured out how to deal with it all myself being so far from home) so to them it must had looked like now the real work had begun I was being lazy.  I think that was the low point which of course is magnified when you’re living in the ‘camp bubble’.  Working in such close quarters means you’re bound to run into somebody who you might not get on with or have the same view points as.  The best thing you can do is to remain civil and almost BFF like when ‘working’ and then staying away from them during your time off.  It might sound childish and extreme but seriously, it’s such close quarters that you need to do it to stay sane.

There were times at camp where I just wanted to come home.  Even though I’d lived away for Uni, nothing had prepared me for the homesickness – I missed my family and friends, I struggled to gel with other councillors.  Don’t get me wrong, I met some amazing people.  I personally didn’t meet any lifelong friends but I know others that did.  For me, camp was about learning about myself – after uni I was so lost and camp helped me to figure out what I wanted to do next so it was still a totally worthwhile experience.

So that is a brief overview of my camp journey and even with the bad, it was still the best thing I ever decided to do.  I learnt so much about myself on so many levels – how strong I actually was, how I handle meeting new people, how I deal with being away from home etc… Would I do it differently – yes of course! I’d like to change all the bad bits but sometimes it takes those bad bits to really discover who you are.  I got exactly what I needed from my camp experience and after all, that’s what I went for – to find myself – and I did just that.  Would I recommend it? ABSOLUTELY! There’s nothing like pushing yourself out of your comfort zone to get the best out of an experience.

If you’d like to find out more about working at summer camp, I’d highly recommend checking out sites like Camp LeadersCamp America or Bunac.