Working At A Summer Camp

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As a nearly 4 month summer sadly comes to an end, I can happily say it's been a hell of a good one! Anyone who is a uni student knows that summers are very long compared to when you're at school, so what do you do with all that time? Yes, you could get a job...but why not take it to the next level and go work abroad at a summer camp.

A friend mentioned wanting to work at a summer camp and the first thing I thought was 'nope, that is not something I could do'. But low and behold, when a summer camp company came to give at talk at uni back in October/November 2015, I went along to it with an open mind and came away ready to sign up. After procrastinating with the application for nearly 2 months, I sent it off and within just a few weeks I had been offered a place at a camp. There was the option to decline and for the company to carry on looking but nope, I looked up the camp, was happy with what I saw so said yes and that was that...I was going to camp.

So, on 21st June I hopped on a plane to Canada and after a few days exploring (more of that to come in another post) I headed off to camp. I'm pretty sure most of us have seen at least one film set in a summer camp and have a stereotypical preconception of what they must be like. I'll admit, I had the same picture in my mind. In all honesty, it wasn't like the films are highly unrealistic, my experience wasn't far from what is portrayed...probably just the fact that you are there to work and not just to act as a kid. But, it wasn't exactly like I was slaving away day in day out, there were days off, waterfront afternoons, playing around with the kids (basically getting to act like a big kid).

Working at a summer camp


What was the application process like?

I applied through CCUSA who then put me through to NYQUEST. Yes, there was a longish application, but it is worth it because it allows you to be placed in a job you are comfortable with and works well with any current skills as well as a suitable camp. You get the choice to work as a counselor - someone who goes round the activities with the children and joining in, specialist - someone who runs the activities, or support staff who are the cooks, cleaners, admin etc. I also had to write a bit of an essay explaining why I'd be suitable to work at a camp and then there were a few skype/phone call interviews thrown in there. But of course, other companies application processes may be different.

What did I do in camp?

Well when I was applying, I didn't think I would want to work directly with the children all day, so didn't apply for a counselor position and instead opted for support staff. I got a job working under the admin title, in the tuck shop. Yes, it was alright and the girl I worked with became such a good friend of mine. But as I got more into camp life, the more I was drawn to possibly working as a counselor or specialist...maybe next year?


What was a day at camp like?

Every camp is different of course, but we woke up at 7:45, breakfast at 8:15 followed by time to get ready and clean up the cabin and then activities started at 9:45. Lunch at 12:15 with rest hour afterwards then more activities in the afternoon. 6:15 was dinner and then evening programs for the children before snack then bedtime. But the day didn't finish there, at 11pm there was an evening program for the staff along with more food. So long days yes, but you quickly get use to it and it is strange when you leave and no longer have a schedule to follow.


What was cabin life like?

At my camp, cabins were in units of age groups and each cabin had 20 beds. The amount of people varied in each for, for example, first month I was in a cabin with 4 other staff members and 8 kids but then second month there were 6 other staff members and 12 kids (so yes a very packed cabin). At first it can be a bit of a shock, sharing a space with that many people and it can get very messy, very quickly...so cabin clean up is vital. Some cabins had sinks and toilets on their porch, others didn't. Luckily I did so if it was raining I didn't have to run to the shower house to clean my teeth.

Summer camp cabin


Outdoor life

It's camp, you are going to be outside the majority of the time. This is one thing I really do miss. Basically, the first thing we did after waking up was go out onto the porch to clean teeth then walk to breakfast. Luckily we were blessed with amazing weather for the majority of the summer (yes I got a pretty good tan) and when the days got super hot, we had waterfront afternoon so we could spend time jumping in the lake to cool off. But, of course there was the rainy days and a storm or 2. Seriously, wow, one storm we had early on was amazing! The thunder was so loud and it almost felt like it could move the cabin. Lightning, well that was a whole other story. It was night time, but the flashes of lightning made it look like day and there was one strike that hit probably 100m from my cabin! One rainy days, we usually had a bunk day/morning/afternoon and it was a brilliant time to either bond as a cabin as well as rest.

But along with the whole setting comes the bugs. Moths and spiders in the cabin were a daily thing, and even if you couldn't see any, you knew they were there. At first this made me on edge to sleep but you soon get use to it and are happy to go to the loo with a big daddy long legs chilling next to you. Mosquitoes were a whole other story. For the first few days I thought I was getting away with not being bitten...then they started feasting...and a week down the line I had a reaction to them which made my legs first swell then break out into huge rashes (how lovely). It did honestly look as if I had some kind of infectious disease. But after seeing the on site doctor, they cleared up and although I continued getting bitten, I didn't react again thankfully.

Working at a summer camp

Favourite moments?

There are so many! Waterfront afternoons, chilling by the lake with everyone. A weekend in which it's like a big sports day, everyone is on a team and takes part and the atmosphere around camp was amazing. One special moment was when a friend of mine told me a girl in her cabin said that one thing she wants to do by the end of summer that would make her really happy...was to be my friend. How adorable is that?! 

The thing that just topped the whole summer off was that the camp I went to had a no screens policy, which at first I thought would be such a challenge, but it really wasn't. No phones, tablets, laptops, nothing like that. It meant that everyone communicated, wasn't distracted, lived in the moment, and that is what made the all the experiences were enjoyed by everyone!

Fitting in

For me, and many of the other international staff, this was our first time at camp and although it was a great experience...we did find there were a few things that took some time to get use to. They weren't really problems to be honest, but we had to bare in mind that many of the returning staff members had grown up at the camp and had known each other for 9,10, 11 years plus so of course all had friend groups. At first we all were a little taken back by this, feeling like we weren't being included, but as time went on it was fine. One thing that was very strange to us newbies at first was showering...I remember the first time I walked into the shower house, music was playing, everyone was talking...and everyone was stood there naked and showering together. Took a bit of getting use to and I remained in a bathing suit for quite sometime.


What did I come away with?

Firstly, I made some brilliant friends, and from all around the world too - Australia, Hungary, France, New Zealand, Holland, all over the UK... It also gave me the opportunity to travel and explore Canada a bit and travelling is something I have wanted to do for a while. Plus with the friends I made, it means I can go places to visit them as well. Finally, although it is cliche, I have had a changed mindset. I kind of came to the realisation that I wasn't really doing much with my time, apart from sitting around watching Netflix and YouTube... As well, through spending the whole summer without my phone, and only occasionally going on the computers to talk to friends and family, I proved to myself I don't have to be dependent on technology. Plus I would like to pick up some new hobbies to fill some of that free time.



Have you worked at a camp, or would like to?

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