This is the story of my First Big Solo Adventure!!!
In 2019 I decided to work at an American Summer Camp Counsellor for two months. This is my experience.
So in the Summer of 2019 I drove to the airport, cried a few last tears with my mom (mommas boy am I right), boarded the plane and began my long perilous journey halfway around the world to the United Sates. The great United States of America, the land of reality tv, sasquatch hunters, Yee-Haw gun wielding cowboys, obesity and crazy rednecks. I couldn’t wait !!!
Jokes aside though, this was my first big solo adventure and I was a nervous wreck. The entire trip took a total of two days, from Johannesburg Airport (or Oliver Tambo Airport as it officially known by) to Newark Airport and for the entirety of those two days, I could not relax at all !! My head was just constantly filled with thoughts such as ‘ How do I navigate a huge international airport without getting lost? ‘ , ‘ What happens if I miss my flight? ‘ and ‘ How the heck do you exchange currency?’ . I was just a big ol’ stress case. As if that wasn’t bad enough I couldn’t fall asleep at all on either of two 10hr plus plane rides. So ye that was fun.
Anyways fast forward to when I touched down on American soil for the first time. After getting lost in Newark Airport and wondering around for two hours (this is with all my luggage mind you) I finally managed to find the guys that were going to drive me to camp. It was only at this point that I could finally relax and think properly again. O what a blessed moment that was. The camp staff members were sitting with the other camp counsellors who had flown in from all around the world. We introduced ourselves and quickly began to make friends with one another. This was a new experience for all of us and we bonded over our shared excitement for this big adventure. We squeezed all our luggage into a tiny little bus, did a rollcall and we were off. The adventure had officially begun. Now that the stress of travel had worn off, I felt immensely excited for this.
Even though we arrived after dark, we were still greeted with a warm welcome from the other camp counsellors and staff. We got to work shaking hands and returning friendly smiles belonging to people from all over the world. There were people from the U.K, Germany, Israel and even a guy from Columbia. There was quite a diverse range of peoples. Over the next few days we did a bunch of fun teambuilding activities together that quickly bonded us all closely. Within a few days you knew everyone’s name and within a few more days you were friends with everyone. It was really cool to learn about all these different cultures and of course being the only South African at that time I was happy to educate everyone about my unique country and traditions.
The next few days was a furious rush to get everything ready before the busses of campers rolled in. Most of our time was spent unpacking the kid’s huge bags. These bags were GINORMOUS. I mean you could legit fit a whole adult body, stretched out full length, in these things and still have room to spare (that was a weird analogy to use, wasn’t it. Well whatever). Some of these kids even brought two of these things. We had a saying back in my scouting days, ‘ Be Prepared’ . Ye well, these kids took it to heart and were prepared for every situation on planet EARTH!!!
A few days later, when I felt like I never wanted to unpack another bag in my life, the kids started rolling in, in the classic bright yellow school busses. So, now for the big question you are all dying to know the answer to! Are all American kids the brats they portray them to be in the Summer camp movies you see on t.v ? Sorry to disappoint but the answer is no. The kids are all really cool, friendly and confident. Most of them are regulars to this particular camp and know their way around. Camp is like their home away from home for most of them. It is just the first timers that need that extra TLC, with it being their first time away from mom and all that . After a few days though everyone fits in just fine.
Ok, sleeping situation. How does that work, you may ask? Great question. The kids are split up, boys and girls and then split up by age groups. These age groups are then further split up into smaller groups for the dorms. Two camp counsellors are assigned per dorm. I was assigned to the 9 and 10 year olds which meant I had my hands full. Night-time and morning routines were always a crazy flurry of activity and chaos. That’s when the kids need the most ‘parenting’ . Those times were hard work. There are other times though when you get to relax and have fun with the kids. That’s when you get to learn about the kids’ different personalities. Some can be a little shy at first but after a week or two they turn into quite the little rascals. These kids were so much fun to hang out with though. Most of the time at least.
One thing I can tell you about these kiddos is that they love sport. Not just love it, they are OBSESSED with it!!! There isn’t a moment in the day when at least one of them isn’t talking about sports. It’s always, who is the best basketball player, who is the best baseball player and how they want to go pro someday. For someone who isn’t really into those kinds of sport it can get a little draining sometimes, not going to lie. Guess that is one American stereotype is actually true.
There are a ton of activities for the kids to do on camp. There is rock climbing, water sports, acting, gymnastics, archery and many more. This means that apart from being a dorm parent, every camp counsellor is also a specialist of some kind. My job title was the nature specialist. This meant my job was to teach the kids things like fire building, shelter making and various other nature associated activities. Unlike almost every other specialist job on camp the nature specialist doesn’t have a set structure of tasks to do in a session. This meant I had to get creative with ideas. This proved challenging at times especially since you exhaust most of your ideas throughout the summer. The kids that came with me were great and a bunch of fun to be around. They loved to pick blueberries and question every possible thing about my home country, South Africa. I had them convinced that I had a pet lion waiting for me back home. You got to mess with them a little bit, every once in a while, don’t ya? Those sessions with the kids, building fires and forts in the woods was always a blast.
Meal times at camp were special. Because the camp was a Jewish based camp everyone would always sing a song of thanks in Hebrew called Hammotze (really hope I’m not butchering the spelling there) before every meal. The trick here was to see how loud and energetic your group could get, the loudest group winning the bragging rights for the day. Needless to say competition between the girls and boys was always pretty fierce. Boys rule, girls drool!!! Food was alright but it doesn’t beat mom’s cooking. It was all you can eat buffet style though, which is always welcome by me. On Friday night everyone would dress up in white and celebrate Shabbat together, a Jewish tradition where everyone gathers and sings a bunch of Jewish hymes in harmony. After the songs, it was feasting time. “Lets eat !!!”. Although, I have to add here, that 2 months without pork or bacon was a pretty rough patch. Gotta give a big shout out here to all the Israeli staff that helped the rest of us understand their culture and traditions in detail. You guys were legends.
Days Off!!! Living with a bunch of 9 year olds fulltime can be fun. It can also be exhausting. You get one day off a week. One day to escape the craziness. One day of freedom where you can go whereever you want and do whatever you want. I made a bunch of awesome memories with my friends on my days off. Sometimes we would go out and do activities like play an escape room or mini golf and other times we would just chill out in the city nearby. Good times. Apart from days off staff were allowed to make Walmart runs every few days. I would tag along not to buy anything, but just to be with everyone else. The energy on these little outings was contagious. We would all just jam out to classics while zipping through the Pennsalvannia countryside. Living the dream. And after you have had your fun, you return to the crazy world of being a camp counsellor.
There where also countless little moments that stick with me. Watching fireworks and eating burgers on the 4th of July. Outing to go watch the new Lion King Movie with everyone. After work staff events and chill times. Trips to the local ice cream truck . So many flavours to choose from! Hanging out in the dorms with the kids. Shabbat evenings. All these moments, big and small combined to make my experience in America the best Summer of my life, well so far at least.
If you are thinking of working at a Summer Camp but you aren’t quite sure if it is how you want to spend your summer. Need that final push. Well this is it!!! Look I’m not going to lie to you and say its all sunshine and rainbows. A lot of it is, but not all of it. Some of it is really demanding and challenging sometimes. Living with kids 24/7 isn’t easy. Ye it ain’t easy, but it is worth it. You will find that the good days will definately outweigh the harder days. There are so many special moments that are formed when you do something like this. You make amazing friends and memories. You grow as a person. You will have loads of fun and get paid for it as well which never hurts. So what are you waiting for. Try it out. You won’t regret it, I promise,