by Roisin Doyle, CIEE Camp Exchange USA, 2019
Like most girls my age, I have dreamed of going to an American summer camp ever since I was a kid after seeing the classic movie – The Parent Trap. The crazy dream of meeting your long-lost twin sister whilst at camp was unrealistic but I wanted to experience camp life all the same. Little did I know that I would gain so much more – sisters from all over the world and a second home. I don’t quite know how I’m going to put the best experience of my life into just one blog post, but here I go...
Not Your Typical 9 to 5 Job
Camp involves waking up at 6:30 in the morning and going almost non-stop until 9 or 10 o’clock that night only to do it all over again the next day. It involves being the parent, sister, nurse, friend, teacher, superhero, mediator, tooth fairy, and so much more. It is hard work especially on days when you’re running off little sleep because you were up comforting a kid. It means dealing with homesick children, poop, vomit and all sorts of things you never expected to have to deal with. It means giving yourself a minute to cry in the staff room and then walking out with a smile on your face to sing camp songs.
But I can promise you that it is the most rewarding and enjoyable job you will ever have. Working at camp will teach you things about yourself and will bring out the best in you in every way. It gives you the chance to be a kid again without a care in the world – wearing silly costumes, playing children’s games, singing camp songs that will be stuck in your head for months after camp, allowing kids to paint your face however they like (and have a bucket of glitter put in your hair which never really goes away), eating 20 pancakes for breakfast, weekly Walmart runs where you will never ‘only get what you need’, and so much more. And the best part about all this? You literally get PAID to have fun. (Okay, I lied, the best part is the walkie-talkies and driving the golf cart, but I mean, getting paid to have fun is is pretty cool too.)
It’s crazy how fast you become close to people you have literally just met. Your co-counsellors can be from anywhere around the world. In the ‘camp bubble’ a day feels like a week and a week feels like a month and yet the summer still somehow goes by in the blink of eye. It doesn’t matter where you come from, what you do, or how you look, all that matters is what’s happening in that camp bubble right now. It feels like you’ve known these people forever. You bond over laughing about your kids making silly faces, trying to build a fire or plunge a toilet together, lying under the stars talking about everything and anything that comes to mind. These people will become your support system at camp – they’ll see you at your highest and your lowest and they will always have your back. I’ve worked with an incredible bunch of people in camp and I have never seen a group of people come together and step up like they did no matter what got thrown at us. You will come of out this camp bubble with some of the best friends you could have ever asked for.
Beyond your relationships with your co-counsellors, the kids make it all worthwhile. As soon as they arrive on a Sunday you automatically gain 24 little sisters, admirers and friends. These girls will look up to you, copy you and want to be you – so it’s so rewarding even if you can just inspire them or impact their life in the tiniest way. Every week I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to get to know each and every single one of these girls and watching them grow over the years brings me so much joy. When they send me mail or happy grams, not going lie, sometimes I cry (happy tears) because they say the sweetest things and I don’t think they know how much that makes my day. They are little rays of sunshine and I’m always sad to see them go once Friday comes around.
I worked in a Girl Scouts camp in Maine and empowering those young girls was one of the most important things to me. I wanted them to know how strong and capable they are with so much potential to do whatever it is they want to do in life. Every time one of these girls excelled in something or accomplished something they never expected to – I don’t think they realized that they were inspiring me too.
I remember during my first summer as the archery director one of my kids was so devastated that she didn’t get to the next level of her trail masters in Archery by the end of the last lesson and had given up on herself. So, during free time on Friday before they all went home, I brought her up to the Archery range for two hours and myself and another counsellor taught her until she was getting bullseyes and made it to the next level in her trail masters. I remember so distinctly how happy this little girl was and it made me so full of joy. It’s moments like these that make the hard times worth it, make you go that extra mile to help them and this is what keeps me coming back every year.
Becoming The Best Version of Yourself
I would never have been described as ‘a morning person’ but in camp (on days off) you’ll never see me sleep in past 8AM. Camp brings out the best in me. Camp also makes you appreciate the little things so much like a cup of coffee in the morning, a friendship bracelet, a hug or simply just someone leaving you a little note to say “Hey, you’re doing great and I’m proud of you!”. Your typical uniform is a tie-dye shirt (for me, a chance to wear all of my Taylor Swift t-shirts), shorts, no make-up, hair thrown up in a bun with a headband and old runners or flip flops, you probably haven’t showered in days and you more than likely have some form of sunburn (especially if you’re Irish or British) and yet there’s still no other place on Earth that you’d rather be. At camp you never have to worry about being judged or being different or looking a certain way – it’s the most welcoming community and allows you to grow and learn so much about yourself. I did things in camp that I never thought I would do or be able to do – I went from never holding a bow in my life to being the director of Archery. I paddle boarded around the entire lake thanks to my incredible co-counsellors who helped me improve my balance. I lit a fire out in the woods – I couldn’t even light a fire at home before I went to camp! Also, I slept in a tent in the woods for 8 WEEKS – you would never see me camping at home. It was daunting at first but I never expected to love it as much as I did. I had to deal with many sensitive situations that I’ve never faced before but instinct kicked in and it’s made me a better counsellor and person – I learned life lessons from camp that I could never learn from a job at home. It helps grow your confidence in ways you could never imagine. I led camp songs and flag – things I thought I’d never be confident enough to do. Before camp, I was reluctant to do stuff I didn’t know like the back of my hand but in camp I found myself throwing myself into everything without even questioning myself. Every year I return home from camp, I return more confident in myself and my decisions.
What I Took Home With Me
There are many things that I took home with me from camp – friendship bracelets, a book full of camp songs, happy grams from counsellors and campers and so much camp merchandise. I also took home lifelong memories and friendships that I will never forget. I am already counting down the days until we’re reunited again next summer in our home away from home.
Camp makes you feel more alive, loved and appreciated than ever, which is why being a camp counsellor is the toughest job you will ever love. I honestly couldn’t imagine spending a summer anywhere other than Pondicherry.
Say when will we ever meet again, say where and I’ll meet you right there, say why do we have to say goodbye. Say when, say where, say why…
For more information on the CIEE Camp Exchange USA program, please visit our website.