by Frederikke Baunbæk Larsen, CIEE Camp Exchange USA, 2019
I see myself as quite a normal girl: I was born and raised in small and ordinary Denmark. I spent my childhood surrounded by my family; living with my mom and my twin brother; playing with friends; going to school. Nothing too out of the ordinary there. So, who knew that I would be lucky enough to spend my summer getting to know 35 amazing and supportive people while teaching some of the happiest, most empathetic and sweet girls I’ll ever meet?
I want to be completely honest. Going to camp isn’t easy. It’s not something you just do. It takes patience, perseverance, and paperwork - a lot of paperwork. Furthermore, it’s completely terrifying to travel 3462 miles, on your own, to a place you’ve never been before and only seen in a few pictures. To work for someone you haven’t met in person. To speak a different language so intensely for 2 months, that you start speaking it in your sleep. It requires courage and you need a good amount of confidence - but in return, it will build a whole lot of character.
Expectations and Reality
When interviewing with my summer camp, the director, asked me what kind of expectations I had for the summer. I said something about making new friends, getting better at speaking English and teaching kids. All came true - except I didn’t only make new friends, I gained a new family and a new home. I will never be able to explain what camp does to you as a person. It’s an incredible experience that I will be forever grateful for. I honestly can’t thank my fellow staff members enough for making my summer so special. It wouldn’t have been the same without each and every one of them.
Arriving in America, I had my thoughts about how camp worked. I’d seen The Parent Trap and Camp Rock. I realized that those movies show camp life, but they don’t prepare you for a counselor’s summer. I knew that, as a counselor, I would be close with the campers and that I would live with them. But I still thought there would be some kind of division - a teacher and student relationship almost. Well, I was completely wrong. Every Sunday a new group of campers would arrive, and when the group we’d been working with for a whole week would leave again the next Friday I was sad to see them go. It was like getting 24 younger siblings every week, so saying goodbye wasn’t always easy.
As a counselor you have to wear a lot of hats at the same time. It can get to be a tall stack. You have to be the Parent and tell them to go brush their teeth. You have to be the Friend and help them up when they fall. You have to be the Superhero who shows them that if they just believe in themselves everything is possible. You have to be the Teacher, the one who shows them how to paddle, how to dance, how to hold their bow and arrow, how to ask for help, and how to teach others. And that’s not all, you also have to be the nurse, the judge, the mediator and so on.
Camp life is a lot of fun, and a lot of hard work. It’s about making the most of the time you have because two months isn’t that long once you’re there. Time really canoes by when you’re having fun!
Making a Difference
I remember the time when I realized how the campers truly trust you even though you’re practically a stranger to them. How, as a counselor, you have to be there to help them no matter what. It was the first day of camp and the kids had just arrived. It was raining, and we were all waiting inside for thunder to pass so we could get down to the lake and do swim tests. I was in a unit for some of the youngest campers. Two of the girls were very nervous about doing the swim test because of the weather. We all told them that they would be completely fine, and that the weather would have to be better before we could even do the test. It cleared up so we went down to the lake and lined up. The two girls still weren’t very keen on going in the water because it was still raining a bit. We tried reassuring them; explaining the different tests they could do (the campers pick themselves what level of difficulty they want to try), showed them how many lifeguards were standing on the dock looking out for them, introduced them to our waterfront Director who was doing the tests. It didn’t work. So, we finally offered them that I would go in the water with them and explained to them that I was also a lifeguard and that I would be there right next to them. The girls agreed. So there I was, in my camp uniform, going in the lake so the girls would feel comfortable doing their swim tests. Being a counselor is not about spending the summer abroad. It’s about empowering campers and supporting them so they can reach their goals for the summer - even if it’s just going in the water for a swim test. It’s about making a difference, no matter how big or small it may be.
I Want to Linger, A Little Longer
I didn’t only bring home a lot of camp merchandise and a book full of camp songs. I also brought home so many great memories and new friendships that I’ll never forget. The last few days of camp were hard. We’d all had our ups and downs during the summer, but it made us stronger. It made us a team. We all knew that camp had to end at one point, but going from living with, not just near, all your friends for two months to saying goodbye is a terrible feeling. I kept wishing for just one more day, one more campfire, one more trip around the lake in a kayak, one more song.
All this is the reason why I’m going back next year. I can’t imagine spending my summer anywhere else than at Pondicherry. So, I just have one thing left to say: Take me home, Pondi Roads.
For more information on the CIEE Camp Exchange USA program, please visit our website.