the power of camp (as a camper + counselor)

I get all types of varied reactions when I tell people that my summer job is working at a day camp. For those who went to camp, they realize how great it can be and are ecstatic. Other people ask, wouldn’t you be better off with an internship?

A few days ago I read this NY Times article on why being a camp counselor teaches you more than interning does. I think everyone in the camp world would agree, but  I’d like to add my own thoughts to this because camp has been a large part of my life for the past 15 years.

As a young child, I was extremely shy, hesitant, and  scared of anything unfamiliar. My mom loves to tell me that I cried every morning for the first two years that I went to camp, and only went thanks to some extremely dedicated counselors.

I was that kid that wouldn’t go in the pool until second grade. I was that kid that didn’t do anything involving heights (I still am). I was that kid that hated boat rides and tubing until eighth grade. I was that kid that liked to befriend the counselors, not my fellow campers.

Being at camp taught me to break out of my shell. I played sports I never normally would have played. I made friends. I did try some new things, but knew my limits. I was able to find the things that I excelled at (I admit, it was mostly arts and crafts). I also learned life skills that I now love. My fear for swimming? I’m now one of the first people in the pool. I may never swim in the olympics, but I can get places, not drown, and look like I know what I’m doing.

As I’ve transitioned from camper to counselor, my role has changed dramatically. Being around 16 kindergardeners all day is exhausting and frustrating if you don’t actually love it. But I want to be able to give them the same camp experience that I still cherish and show them why it’s an amazing place to have the opportunity to spend summers.

As a counselor, I’ve learned to be resourceful. I usually have around 22 kids on a bus and then 18 in my normal group. On the bus especially, you may not always have whatever supplies or activities you need and have to make do in a pinch. If a camper is crying for their mom, you need to be able to distract them.

I’ve learned responsibility. The kids rely on you, and your unit leader relies on you, to do what you need to to make sure they have a great day while staying safe. I’ve had children with severe allergies to look after, which is an entirely different layer of responsibility. It’s also in a setting with a boss that’s less intimidating than a real-world boss, but that still allows us responsibility within reason. This year, as a returnee from college I will finally be a head counselor.  So, the responsibility grows but the pride in what I do will also grow.

Speaking of co-counselors, I learn teamwork. You meet two random strangers and have to manage a group of unpredictable kids together for the entire summer. It teaches you how to work with people you may not even have anything in common with. And, if you get lucky like I did last summer, they become some of your best friends.

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I learn to be understanding. Kids have issues, or strange tendencies and quirks. Some parents may be particularly demanding, but you learn to appreciate different approaches and do your best to work with them. Again, real world workplace skills.

I’ve learned to not take things too seriously. The outfit I’m wearing above would never leave my room unless it was for camp. You can dress up, be goofy, and for the most part nobody cares.

Ultimately, I enjoy going to camp. I get to be active and to be outside all day while spending time with some of my greatest friends and meeting some incredible kids. On the last day, as the children cry when they’re forced to leave,  I think everyone understands the impact they’ve made on a child’s summer.  I strive to be that counselor that my campers talk about for years to come – just like when I was younger and idolized those counselors.

While internships may help lead to jobs after college, there is no reason to rush to grow up and leave camp. When I have to I will move on, but for now I’d prefer to enjoy my summer and leave my mark at camp each summer.  Screen Shot 2013-07-24 at 6.15.28 PM

Photos: Me and my best friend at camp. We were both campers and are now counselors.

 

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