The truth about working in an American summer camp
Updated: Aug 22, 2021
I’ve had many summers that consisted of one thing - work! Waitressing day and night, and that was pretty much it. Summers were weeks and weeks of the same thing, with a random bit of socialising every so often to break up the constant shifts.
Summer 2017 was different. It dawned on me that this was my last 'empty' summer. I had just finished my first year of uni, and wanted to have fun. The summer after second year I wanted to be interning (link to a piece on that experience here) so this summer was my chance to travel.
It had been on my bucket list for a few years. If I drop in the name Camp America, people imagine log cabins and camp fires seen in films like The Parent Trap and Dirty Dancing.
I did it through Americamp - a different company that do the same thing. I chose them because it meant better pay for me, and a bit more flexibility with flights.
I cracked on with the application early 2017, did a skype interview, jumped through a few more hoops and was soon heading on a plane to New York! (This is massively simplified version of the preparation process, if you want to know all the ins-and-outs, give me a shout!)
Now, I wish I could say I left rainy Manchester and arrived in sunny New York, but no - it was chucking it down there too. Fast forward through a very stressful and wet journey, and I finally arrived at camp.
The reality of camp life
Of course I can only speak for the camp I was at, but for me - a day in the life of a councillor consisted of lots of activities
broken up with three meals - and you
definitely looked forward to those meals!
I was a varsity councillor, meaning I was in charge of the oldest kids in camp along with a handful of other councillors. The 'kids' I had were aged from 14-16, which meant a lot of moody teenage moments!
It sounds cheesy but for those seven weeks they were there, you become like an older sibling, creating bonds that can’t be replicated anywhere other than camp because you’re literally in a bubble for summer.
Our camp had separate campuses for boys and girls, and then varsity had their own campus due to the age gap.
Every week there was a staff trip to Walmart, which sounds very sad thinking about it now because Walmart is the equivalent to ASDA mixed with IKEA. However, those couple of hours away from camp exposed you the real world again, and most importantly - McDonalds.
The clichés of an American summer camp are all true, you really do sing around a campfire. Another stereotype that is definitely true is that golf carts are the only way to travel within camp (if you’re powerful enough in camp to have one, which I wasn’t). Oh and kids jumping off a jetty into a lake surrounded by trees…yep that’s true too.
I was amazed at this lifestyle these kids had. They lived through the year looking forward to camp and seeing their friends again. I knew straight away that I just needed to embrace the clichés either I’d never fit in.
You are tested and challenged the whole time, the job is intense because of how constant it is, and these factors alongside the part of being away from home, can put people off, but I would highly recommend it.
What I learnt:
Camp is cliquey - Groups form just like any other social situation. The people that have been there before have a group like the popular kids from school, then there's the groups that form out of the new people depending on which age you're with, or who you spend your time off with.
It is tiring - You are spending all day every day with kids. Most of these activities are sports too, so yes - it is a tiring job and you have to be switched on all the time.
You have to be confident and hold your own - This is in respect to the kids, and the other members of staff.
Travel after - You've just worked a whole summer in America, you deserve a bit of fun after, so don't rush home (here's my post-camp travelling experience)