*This is a blog post relating to a past trip. The trip was undertaken in the summer of 2015 (6 years ago at the time of writing). Therefore, details are going to be a little foggy, but I have written it for completeness of the blog to capture everywhere I have been.
A year on from my trip to Costa Rica and having just finished my first year at university I was off to spend my summer working at camp in the USA. Since school, I can remember saying to my friends that one day I wanted to do Camp America as it’s often called, and my first summer of university was the ideal time. I was 19 and the trip was a natural progression from Costa Rica. I would be going alone and away for a longer period of time, around 13 weeks. But with it being the US, things would still be relatively easy and again many things were pre-arranged. There are many agencies out there that offer the camp experience all with their own unique quirks, but I had elected to go with a company called “Americamp”. In short, you start your application in the Autumn and go through several stages, such as application forms and even making a video about yourself. All this then culminates in attending a camp fair day, whereby camp directors from loads of camps in the US, fly over to England to recruit their international staff. There were loads of camps at the fair, however, due to my university commitments I was limited to a select number based on the dates on which they operated. Therefore, walking into the camp fair, I already knew which camp I wanted to be employed at, so headed straight to their stand. I had a quick chat with the then camp director Marcus and within 5 minutes of the fair opening, I was out the door having secured my place at Camp Cayuga for the upcoming summer. Before camp, there were a few other activities such as a visa day at the US embassy in London to get my J1 Visa, plus an orientation day at Americamp HQ in Manchester.
Before I knew it though the time had come to depart for camp. I finished my last exam, moved out of my uni halls, spent a few days at home packing and then flew to America for the summer. Lots of the other international staff working at my camp would be on the same flight, so at the airport, I got to meet some of the people I would be spending the next 9 weeks with. We touched down in Newark and were greeted by a larger congregation of more international staff, before being picked up by the US camp staff and driven into rural Pennsylvania and the Pocono Mountains where the camp was based. The camp was about 3 hours inland from New York and situated just outside a little town called Honesdale. One of the other international staff, Bryn, who I met at the airport even lived just down the road from me at home and had mutual friends. You’d be surprised how often this kind of thing happens while travelling. I remember that first day and arriving at camp as being very long, the combination of travel, welcome orientation and dinner at camp plus a dusting of jet lag for good measure. By the time I got to sleep, I had been awake for something close to 20 hours. But everyone seemed so nice and welcoming and at the end of the day, everyone at camp was of similar age and mindset, there simply to have a great summer. The staff was a great mix from the US, England, Ireland and even places such as Australia, Slovakia and South Africa. Although tired after the journey I was very much looking forward to the summer ahead and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
The first week of camp consisted of a staff orientation without any of the campers. This gave us a chance to get familiar with our colleagues (soon to be friends) with loads of team-building exercises. We learnt a little about the way the camp operates and also trained on different actives that we would be operating over the summer. My main activities would be, rock climbing, quad biking, shooting for some odd reason, which was just an air rifle and finally something to do with minding the youngest campers when they were moving between activities as they were a bit too young to be left to there own devices. The week was good though, the staff all lived in a few bunks and we soon bonded into the summer family we would become. In these types of environments where you are literally with people 24/7 for weeks, you form such strong and intense friendships so quickly. Which to those who haven’t experienced it may seem strange but anyone who can relate will know exactly what I mean. By the end of the week, we were assigned to our cabin for the summer, this is where we would be living and responsible for the campers of this bunk. I was assigned to cabin B6 which housed boys aged 10-11 years old. My co-counsellor would be a Slovakian guy named Jan. Initially I will admit I was a little disappointed, Jan wasn’t one of the guy’s I’d got close to in the first week and some of my friends had actually been moved to the Teesside camp, which although the same camp was reserved for the older campers to keep the age groups a bit more separated. My initial apprehension was soon shattered though as Jan became by far one of the most loveable and friendly characters of camp. Everyone loved him including me and he was a bundle of energy. I still keep in touch with Jan to this day, 6 years on and have even met up with him post-camp in Germany. It is a lesson that will stay with me not to judge a situation too soon and let things run their course a little as you may very well be surprised and eat your words.
Before we get into the first day of camp, I just want to give a bit of an overview of camp life and to set the scene a bit. As I said there were two sides to camp, the main camp where I was based, ages about 6 to 13 and Teenside which was 14 to 16. Although most of the camp facilities were shared, living and dining quarters were split between those two age groups. There were loads of facilities at camp such as horse stables, paintballing, watersports on the lake and much more. The whole camp was surrounded by forest which was even home to bears, who did occasionally wander into camp. A typical day started with a wake-up call from a massive speaker playing music at 8. About 15 minutes later it was flag pole, where all cabins had to be lined up around the flag, to hear key announcements for the day. An American flag was raised and the pledge of allegiance recited after which we would go to the canteen for breakfast. After breakfast, it was down to the signup office for the kids to pick their day’s activities before heading back to the cabin to clean. After the cleaning was done everyone headed off to there activities. Each week the tidiest cabin was also awarded a pizza party in town. Our Cabin actually won this more times than we lost and the pizza was always soo good. Camp food was decent but stuffing your face with pizza was certainly better. Lunch was around 1 pm followed by more activities, there was then a little downtime before dinner. The evening would then involve an “evening activity”, which would often involve the counsellors getting dressed up and painted in crazy stuff and being chased around the camp by hundreds of kids. I felt like I was in a real-life zombie apocalypse at times. Lights-out was at 10 pm. Whereby the counsellors would then have free time between 10 and midnight, to chill on their porch with other counsellors or enjoy the staff room, provided one counsellor from the cabin was positioned outside the cabin at all times. While the kids would be doing their activities, I would be working at the activity sites running whatever I was on for the day, by far my favourite was climbing.
Orientation week quickly ended and just like that the first day of camp was upon us. For the next 8 weeks, we’d be responsible for the safeguarding of 10+ boys of B6 who would become the B6 kings on their arrival at camp, seeing as Jan and I had made them all crowns for their arrival. I think both of us were a little nervous not knowing what to expect but also confident we could handle whatever was thrown at us. Although the camp was open for 8 weeks, most campers would come for 2 or 4 weeks. So for the first 2 weeks, we had a batch of campers, all of whom were at camp for the first time themselves. This was great for us as they had no expectations so it was a bit of a journey for all of us. That first group couldn’t have been a nicer introduction though, they were all great kids and by the time they left you could tell they had a great time, this was also apparent when their parents came to pick them up. The campers were required to write letters home and all the parents said the letters had detailed what fun they were having. This also meant Jan and me were tipped pretty, a nice added bonus. There was a time I could remember the name of every camper we had, but sadly 6 years on the names have faded. Although I can still remember some of the characters from that summer. The highlight of those first 2 weeks was a trip to Hershey World amusement park. The kids were super excited, but the prospect of looking after 10 campers in a busy amusement park was a bit daunting. All the kids from B6 were well up for the rides, even one of the boys who was a bit scared plucked up the courage to ride some of the big rollercoasters with us and we had an awesome day. I do remember one ride, once we got to the front of the line a kid freaked out and didn’t want to do it. Now what should have happened is either Jan or myself should have waited while the rest of the group rode the coaster, but instead, we told him to wait with the ride attendant while we both went on as we didn’t want to miss out haha. A little naughty but no harm came. There was also a point while we were in an arcade I quickly snuck out to ride one of the rides all by myself while Jan watched the campers. It was a successful day out and by the time we got back into camp most of the kids were fast asleep.
On the final night of those two weeks, before we went to bed we went around the group and asked about their experience. When it came to me I mixed my words a little and for some stupid reason came out with this following line. “I hope I touched you all in some way” great phrase to say to a bunch of kids that one, they all started chanting out, “yeah you touched us”. The counsellor of the bunk next door, Bryce heard my attempts to quiet them down and came in to help, telling them it wasn’t funny to be making those kinds of remarks. The next day I covered my own arse by explaining the situation to the division director who first laughed then reassured me everything was fine.
Those first two weeks passed in the blink of an eye and before we knew it, all our campers were gone, giving us one night of peace in the cabin before the next group moved in for 2 weeks. The second 2 weeks were the worst group of kids we had. Now by all means they were just being kids and could have been far worse but there were certainly a few characters in this group. One kid was real hard work, I think he took medication for ADHD or something, however, the first few days no one told us he was meant to take this at the nurse’s hut, so he went mental haha. It was exhausting but I felt we managed to deal with him pretty well and he also came out of his shell a bit and even opened up about certain things to us. He also thought differently about things and came at things from a different angle which was interesting to see. Although that didn’t stop him flicking one of the toilet brushes covered in toilet water at me one day, which really pissed me off at the time haha. Another camper had Autism I think, although I can’t fully remember if that was the correct condition, and again I wasn’t told about this until the last few days at camp. This meant that at times we would ask him to do something he would refuse, meaning after some back and forth we would raise our voice and get a bit more stern with him. Apparently, the worse thing to do as with his condition it just made him even more defensive, so that was a bit of a learning curve. There was also this final kid who to be honest was just a bit of a dick, we didn’t get on very well and supposedly he farted on my pillow a few times haha. To be honest I did have a small bout of conjunctivitis so maybe he did. Little shit, quite literally!! On the whole, that second two weeks was quite a whirlwind and although Jan and I managed pretty admirably, by the end, we were certainly happy to see them all depart and have the cabin to ourselves for a night again. I even won a counsellor of the week award as voted for by senior staff and Jan won counsellor of the month, evidence of the great team we made.
For the final 4 weeks, we had a new group for the whole time and also gained another counsellor, Nick as his bunk was now empty. This eased the workload a little which was nice, plus the final group of kids were all great and so easy going, a welcome relief to the previous 2 weeks. A few highlights from this period were another theme park trip which I actually missed due to it being my day off (more on days off a the end), plus the Cayuga Olympics, where the whole camp gets put into teams and has to compete against one another. You had to ensure all the kids got behind it otherwise you had a horrid time, but our group and the counsellors I was with really put in a lot of energy to this so although by the end I may have had no voice and we didn’t win overall, it was a great experience for all. Also sadly one of our campers for those final 4 weeks actually broke his arm. It was when he was out doing one of his activates so I had no part to play in it but it did cut short his time at camp. There was also the final summer ball where everyone got all dressed up and I think the staff were equally as emotional as the campers to be leaving after an awesome summer.
But just as soon as summer had come it was over, at least at Cayuga. I still had 4 weeks left in the US to travel around post-camp (read about my post camp travels here). In total I earned around $1500 as a wage for the summer but doubled that amount with tips from the parents which would be my spending money for my travels. Camp had been everything and more I wanted it to be. I had made lifelong friends with so many of the staff members, many of which I have seen since and still keep in touch with. The group was so fun to be around, playing stupid games amongst ourselves during camp as well as just having the best laugh with each other. All of which added to the campers enjoyment as we were having a great time too. Some of the people you become closest to are the people you share day’s off with. This is on a rotation basis so there were 3 groups, A day, B-day and C-day. I was in B-day and although you only get 6 days off in the whole 9 weeks you would make the most of them. Leaving camp at 6 pm and then not returning till like 11 pm the following day. We would all head off to a nearby town or cabin somewhere and have a night messing around drinking, before exploring the area a little bit the next day always coming back with stories, or waiting to hear the stories from other groups days off. Other highlights would be porch time after all the kids were in bed, the cabins were grouped so there would be 3 cabins in a row, whereby after lights-out all the counsellors from those cabins would sit out and relax. Some of my best memories are from chilling here with my fellow staff. It’s an experience I wont forget and memories which I still hold dear. The only downside was being 19 so it felt like I had become a child again as the legal age for so much is 21 in America. But I don’t regret going and if I hadn’t gone that summer I don’t think I would have found the time to fit it in so I’m so pleased I went when I did. Some people returned for a second summer and while it crossed my mind a second term would always be compared to the first and I wouldn’t want to tarnish my experience by going again.