As a kid, I never went to summer camp. My shy nature pretty much ensured that the idea of spending a week away from home with a bunch of strangers in a new place was the stuff of nightmares. My first experience with a camp of any kind was this past summer as an assistant counselor at a small Christian camp in rural Vermont. Going in with very little experience or expectations, I really did not know what I was being thrown into or how much it would impact my life. Working as a summer camp counselor is an experience I would recommend to anyone who is looking to grow in their confidence, gain self-knowledge, and build lifelong friendships.
The two and a half months spent at camp this summer were at the same time some of the most challenging yet joyful ones that I have ever had. It did not fully occur to me until the very last day of staff orientation that each week I would be responsible for the wellbeing of eight or so kids. This realization was momentarily met with absolute horror — their parents would drop them off in the woods with a bunch of 20-year-olds and not only expect to return to their children alive but also having had a lot of fun.At first this responsibility seemed daunting, but just hours after my first cabin arrived, I realized that it is also a wonderful opportunity.
Kids would arrive on the first day, some confident in their third year of attending camp, and others wide-eyed and clinging to their parents and their sleeping bags, nervous at the idea of a week away from home. As a counselor, you have the opportunity to make these newcomers feel welcome and feel at ease. It is so rewarding to see these seemingly shy kids open up as the week goes on. One of the things that we emphasize the most during the week is that camp is a place to be unapologetically yourself. I did not realize until the end of the summer just how much this idea was good for me. Spending time where I felt I could be myself and be loved for who I am was an integral part of building confidence in myself.
In the movies, summer camps seem like an easy-breezy time full of s’mores and catchy songs, and to a degree this is true. However, this job is not easy. Each age group brings its own unique set of challenges. These would include the more common occurrences of campers throwing pine needles into the fire or incorporating some — less than appropriate — lyrics into the camp songs. Of course there were also the scenarios I truly did not expect — namely one kid slapping another across the face with a tortilla during lunch, amongst others. These experiences, though difficult in the moment, are some of the times that I have learned a lot about myself. I have learned my limits and how I operate under stress. These self-realizations of sorts have been helpful as I now apply for internships — they present different types of stress, but stress nonetheless.
Through all of the ups and downs of camp, I can honestly say that I feel so fortunate to have worked with a wonderful group of people. I now count fellow staff members as some of my closest friends. There is just something special about being put into a place like camp where you all grow and experience such an array of things together that brings you close in a way like no other. Even after the summer ended, we have stayed in contact and continue to be a part of each other’s lives, which is something that I have come to value greatly. They are a loving and supportive group both in and out of the context of camp.
Reflecting back on my summer as a counselor, I can honestly say that it was both challenging and completely rewarding as far as the confidence and self-knowledge that I gained, and the opportunity that I had to work with a wonderful group of people. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a little bit of adventure.