My Summer Camp Experience
Liam talks about applying for a camp and his time at an American camp.
When I was in my final year of university I was constantly being asked the standard grown up questions by parents, lecturers and family friends that no twenty-something wants to be asked "What are you doing after university?" "Are you applying for jobs?" "What’s your career plan?"… If you’re around the age of 21 you'll understand this student struggle. You smile, nod and say you’ve been applying for jobs 'all the time' when in reality you watched a full season of Game of Thrones on Netflix and ate an entire tub of ice-cream instead. You probably don’t remember your last three week-ends either but that's okay.
One of my best friends had been to summer camp the year before and she wouldn’t stop telling me about how good it was, she told me to find one reason to do it and apply. The number one thing on my bucket list was to teach tennis abroad so camp seemed to tick all the right boxes. 3 months in America did sound pretty dope after all.
She told me that an agency called Camp Leaders helped organise her visa, book her flights and secure her a job at a summer camp. For the first time ever I took her advice and applied that night. I filled out my application form and paid a small £49 deposit which meant I could attend a Camp Leaders job fair in January. I met a camp director face to face and he hired me to be a tennis coach at Camp Echo Lake in NY State.
Everyone- ‘Hey Liam, what are you doing after university?'
Me - ‘I’m going to spend 3 months in America coaching tennis and travelling’
Fast forward six months and I was flying to JFK with my passport/visa, a couple of tennis racquets and no real idea of what to expect from the summer. I spent the night at a hostel in NYC where I met hundreds of people from around the world going to summer camps across the country. A bunch of us went on a NYC bar crawl. I immediately liked America.
All my onward travel had been arranged by Camp Leaders so I found myself on a bus to camp with around 40 other new staff members eagerly anticipating the summer. I was immediately welcomed like a long lost son by all the staff when I arrived, I never thought i'd fit into such a new environment so quickly! After a week of staff orientation I was assigned to a group with 8 other staff who would help look after 23 12 year olds for the summer.
Basically my life had gone from writing dissertations, exams and applying for jobs I didn’t even want to spending my days in the sun coaching tennis to 6-16 year olds. Even when I wasn’t coaching i’d be chilling out with a bunch of cool kids. On top of that, 4 times a day i’d get to eat as much food as I wanted. There were days when I wouldn’t have to coach as much and would get to spend most of the day with my group. I’d join in activities which I’d never of tried before, rock-climbing, sailing, archery, ropes course, yoga, ice-skating etc... One day our group dressed up as pirates, commandeered some kayak’s and boats and had a massive water fight on the lake. I was actually getting paid for this lifestyle.
Anyone who has a vague idea of summer camp knows about the famous camp activities, s'mores, campfires, 4th July celebrations, colour wars, ice-cream eating competitions etc.. these experiences are all cool, especially for an international staff member but there are certain moments that go above and beyond any expectation you could ever have of camp. These moments are the memories you make that are unique to just you and a select few. One night our group dressed up in all black and snuck out at night to explore camp and raid the candy stores, the campers think that they are breaking the rules without knowing the truth that it's been pre-arranged between you and the directors. The campers talk about these 'legendary' moments for future summers.
It's quite special to realise the impact you can have on a group of 12 year olds in just 7 weeks.
Camp to me has been more rewarding than any other job I've ever had. It's cliche but it's true.
When the 9 weeks of camp was over my next adventure was about to begin. Travelling. You get up to 30 days to travel America on your J-1 visa, I was 21 years old and in America, I wasn't going to miss out on anything!
One of the South African tennis guys and I decided to hit up everything the East Coast of America/Canada had to offer. We spent 3 weeks catching overnight grey hound buses from city to city and sleeping in cars/hostels. We went cigar/wine tasting at the Niagara falls, clubbed in Montreal, ate like kings in Boston, chilled on the Cape Cod beaches, we caught NFL, baseball & US Tennis games. We did all the cliche tourist stuff in NYC and Washington D.C too. We didn’t have a plan more than 24 hours ahead. It was the most amazing way to top off an incredible summer.
If I’m being honest I thought I’d only spend one summer at camp but I felt I had only scratched the surface of America and I ended up going back for 2 more summers. The people I met at camp were hands down the number one reason for me returning. My camp had 250+ staff but I made 8-10 great friendships with people from all over the world. It's not easy having best friends from around the world but in the last 3 years I've managed to visit most of them at least once. It's easy to say that I'll look back at these summers and realise that I made the best decision applying for camp. The funny thing is that job greatly changed the direction in which I am going now.
If you're reading this in the thought process of applying for camp then I recommened you start your application.
You won't ever regret it.
If you are thinking about working at a summer camp then I'd suggest going through Camp Leaders. I used them 3 years in a row, their customer service is amazing and sorted me out everytime.