I have yet another camp-related post for you (#sorrynotsorry). I have been getting a lot of questions asking how exactly you can become a Camp Counselor in America. Is it hard? Do lots of people do it? Will I get hired?
So, because I can't seem to stop myself from talking about camp, here is everything you need to know about becoming a USA Camp Counselor and how to take the first step towards THE BEST JOB EVER!!
Get comfortable, I have a lot to say.
My camp journey started way, WAY back in March 2009. A friend of mine was looking into going to America for the summer with the Camp America programme. It sounded like a really good opportunity to get out there and see part of the world and make some money while doing it.
At the same time, I had just applied for deffered entry to University and planned to take a gap-year before starting in September 2010 (part of a ploy by my former SO who had a few control issues to stop me from going all together) and was looking for some exciting ways to spend my summer.
So, when applications for Summer 2010 opened I looked into it, filled out an application, made a budget plan and got really excited! This was really happening!
...Or not. Long story short, I naively let myself get talked out of it by said former SO. So my 2010 camp dreams were shattered and I spent my gap year doing administration for an insurance company. Riveting stuff.
Lesson number 1: Never EVER let someone else dictate your dreams. If you want to do it, DO IT! It is seriously that simple.
Fast forward to my final year of University, former SO is long gone, current SO is in the picture (and super supportive ftw!) and I have FINALLY submitted my Camp America application!! Second time lucky!
Now, it is important to do your research if you want to go to camp to find out what type of camp is right for you. Do you want a religious camp? Single sex or co-ed? Do you want to live in a cabin or a tent?
I like to try and always look on the bright side so the good thing that came out of not going to camp the first time round meant that I had ample time to find the exact camp I wanted to go to, whereas I could have ended up somewhere completely different in 2010 and had a completely different experience. As they say, everything happens for a reason.
For me, the image I got in my head when I thought of summer camp was the movie Parent Trap (a must-see for any prospective campies!) and through endless hours of research I found somewhere just like it, right down to the green and white uniform!
Up in Maine, surrounded by green trees, rolling hills and next to a crystal clear lake, this camp was everything I wanted and more! With daily views like this, I couldn't say no!
So, when the time came to submit my application, I asked Camp America if they could send my application here first before any other camp, just in case!
Lesson number 2: Don't be afraid to tell the sponsors what you want. Most companies will try and discourage you from finding your own camp but if you know what you want then go after it! The worst that happens is they say no!
Now, let me digress a little here to talk quickly about the sponsor companies. Make sure to do your research here too! There are loads of different organisations out there (Camp America, CCUSA, Americamp, BUNAC, IENA, Camp Leaders, Wildpacks - the list is endless!) who all have the same goal in mind - helping you to have the best summer ever, so make sure to pick the one that suits you and your needs the best. Admittedly, I went with Camp America in 2013 because they were the only organisation I had ever heard of! Don't get me wrong, they were a great help to a first timer and were supportive throughout the whole process but as a returner I chose to use CCUSA (and I cannot recommend them enough! Seriously, check them out here. I have used them every year since!)
It's nothing personal Camp America, it wasn't you, it was me. But you will always be my first.
Anyway, back to the story. I clicked submit on my application, paid my deposit and waited for someone from Camp America to get in touch with an interview. I didn't have to wait long! October 2012, I found myself sitting in Starbucks opposite a really nice girl who was helping me with all my paperwork (mainly my CRB check which is the first super important document you need in order to get a visa!) and just having a chat. It was super laid back. Admittedly, I was nervous about the interview to begin with (but that's just natural when hearing the word 'interview', right?) and showed up 20 minutes early so walked up and down the lanes anxiously to waste time until it was acceptable to go in.
Don't stress about your interview, it is basically just a casual chat so the organisation can make sure that you are up for the challenge - after all, camp is hard work! But it's so much fun so relax and be yourself.
Two days after the interview I got an email letting me know I had been accepted to the programme and that they would now be sending my application out to camps in the hopes of getting me placed! Woohoo!
Admittedly, after all the excitement of getting started, waiting to get placed is dull. Like, really dull. I found myself refreshing my emails every 10 minutes and automatically logging on to my profile to see if I had been placed. No such luck.
When you send your application to a camp for first refusal they are allowed to hold it for 2 weeks to decide if they want to take it any further or to return it to the organisation to send on to another camp. Towards the end of the two weeks I was beginning to lose hope. Then, one Tuesday afternoon while teaching my dance classes, I received an email. It was the director of the camp I loved asking to set up a Skype interview for 2 days time! I was so excited!
The day of the Skype interview came and I was SO nervous. Like so nervous. But I need not have been. Besides the slight embarrassment of accepting the Skype call with video and then realising the interviewer had gone for audio only, meaning he could see me the whole time but I couldn't see him, the interview was relatively informal. I was asked a few questions about dance and how I would cope with kids etc but overall I felt it went pretty well.
20 minutes after we hung up I had an email asking me to send across some videos. The director liked what he had seen but wanted some footage of me teaching and dancing to send to the head of the dance department.
A week after sending the videos I still hadn't heard anything. I was devastated. That was the camp I wanted more than anything. It just seemed perfect for me and I didn't know what to do now except wallow in self pity. So I did.
The following Monday (November 12th) I sent an email to the director asking if he had received my videos (not that I doubted he had, I just wanted him to remember I was still waiting). I got no response.
Or so I thought! Time difference is a bitch. So, that night I went to cheerleading training as usual and, less usual, we had a major injury happen which meant I had to call an ambulance. Scary stuff. When I hung up the phone I realised I had an email notification.
Obviously I didn't read it! I'm not that self-absorbed, I went back into the gym, waited with Tasha (who also went on to go to camp one day btw) until the ambulance arrived and went with her to the hospital for xrays. Thankfully, she was fine. It was then that I read my email.
I HAD BEEN PLACED!! I honestly don't have the words to explain how I felt in that moment. Releived, excited, overwhelmed, elated, scared to death. But mostly excited.
Lesson number three: Never lose hope.
What came next was mountains of paperwork, visa applications (check out my post on J1 visas here) and awaiting flight details.
If I thought waiting to get placed was long, being placed and waiting to go was WAYYYYYY harder. I joined facebook groups, chatted to returning staff as well as participating in a group chat with 4 other British girls all going to my camp on the same day as me.
It was great, talking to these girls about my concerns and worries was reassuring, talking about our plans and excitement just added to our happiness. We couldn't wait!
After actual MONTHS of waiting and counting down the days, June 9th finally arrived and I finally got to meet the people I had spent the best part of 6 months talking to. I have never been so scared in my entire life.
I HATE flying. I didn't know these people and I was sending myself across the Atlantic Ocean for 3 months without any of my friends or family. I must be crazy.
^^ myself, Jenna, Becky, Lorna and Jess about to head off on our great adventure.
After 8 hours on the plane we landed in Boston. No turning back now! Immigration took forever like it always does, but we finally all made it. Next step on our journey was to get a bus to Portland. We had pre-booked our tickets in advance and camp was going to reimburse us for it when we got there. How hard could it be?
Apparently very. We had to take a shuttle from the airport to the bus station. It was hot, we were exhausted and we had far too much luggage. So of course, there were no seats. Becky (middle of the above picture) looked like she was going to either throw up or pass out. It was not a pleasant experience.
By the time we got to Portland it was dark and we had to wait another couple of hours for our shuttle to camp - another hour and a half away. By this point we were past tired and into hysterical. Everything was funny. We were probably ridiculously annoying to all the other people in the bus depot at 10pm that night! Sorry...
Finally we were picked up in a minivan by Steph (who actually went on to become one of my best friends - I even went to her wedding, back at camp, this past summer) and made the last leg of the journey to camp. We were exhausted and camp was in the middle of nowhere. Seriously. There weren't even lights down the road leading to camp so we had no idea we less than 2 metres from the lake on our right side the whole way down.
We pulled into camp at 12:30am (5:30am GMT - we had been up for nearly 24 hours). We were each assigned a different bunk, given bedding and told that the bell for breakfast would ring at 7am.
I pushed open the door to my bunk and crept inside. I could hear snoring from the main room but when I poked my head in I saw that the bed in the corner (I assumed it was meant for me) had no mattress. There was nowhere for me to sleep!
At this point, I was too tired to care so I pulled out my sleeping bag and curled up on the floor of this unfamiliar place in a room separate to everybody else. Alone, for the first time in almost 24 hours. I lay there and heard a loon calling in the distance (except at the time I didn't know it was a loon, I thought it was a coyote and that I was going to die) and felt more lonely than I ever have done. In that moment I regretted every decision that had taken me to that point. I wanted to go home.
Lesson number four: It's completely ok to be homesick. Embrace it. But don't let it take over your mind.
My jetlagged body, however, had other ideas and I fell fast asleep. Jetlag also decided that I needed to be awake again at 5:30. I decided to get up and shower and explore my new home before anyone else got up.
Stunned is the only way to describe how I felt when I stepped outside in the light for the first time. I saw this.
Camp sunrises are something special. I must have spent 15 minutes just looking around me. Everything was beautiful. I had seen pictures of camp online but this was something different. It was incredible. Eventually I tore myself away from the sunrise and hit the showers.
Lesson number 5: Camp showers aren't always warm.
I pulled on some shorts and a tank top and went to sit outside the bunk and take some photos. I could hear people stirring inside but I wasn't ready to introduce myself yet. Plus, sleepy people don't always want to make small talk.
At 7:00 on the dot, an old fashioned bell started ringing and people started piling out of bunks. The camp was alive!!
I had no idea where I was going but I didn't have to worry. A blonde girl with a strong Liverpudlian accent made a beeline for me, introduced herself to me and told me she would look after me. I felt heaps better straight away as we headed up for breakfast and I met some of the other people I would be spending the summer with.
It was then I knew I had absolutely made the right call. I was already in love with camp. The rest, as they say, is history.