“On the last day, I cry more than my campers do.” (BUNAC)
Spring time can only mean one thing to many UK students. It is time to sign up to an American camp to assume the prestigious job of Camp Counsellor. This is a much sought after job for university students or gap year takers. As a Brit, we didn’t have the camp experience growing up, apart from seeing Wednesday and Pugsley dress up for a Thanksgiving performance in Addams Family Values and baby LiLo acting as twins in Parent Trap. The idyllic settings and opportunity to try something new lures in thousands of our young people every year, plus it is a fantastic chance to escape the tight clutches of mum and dad. Independence and freedom? Sign me up!
I expected early mornings. I expected PB&Js. I expected to learn how to canoe, kayak and climb. What I didn’t expect was to create memories that would last a lifetime. What I didn’t expect was to be welcomed into the homes of American families to experience their way of life. What I didn’t expect was to make friends that would last a lifetime and a bond that would be unbreakable.
My camp was fantastic, Hillside Summer Camp. Set away from NYC, on the border of Connecticut, I arrived with a full face of makeup, straightened hair and a pink suitcase. Quickly, I was disappointed to see that the weather was thundering and a thick, heavy sheet of rain pounded down onto the minibus. Where was the sun I was promised? Almost instantly my styled hair became a frizzy mess in the humidity. This was going to be a long summer, I fretted.
I think I lucked out with Hillside. It was a day camp, so in the evenings and during weekends we were free! We were free to explore the city, or perhaps take a tour of Boston, even a trip up to Niagara. This camp was perfectly situated. Yet, we often didn’t travel far. Instead became accustomed with the local treats on offer, such as stunning waterfalls, Jones beach for a BBQ and of course the local Irish pub.
I say we, because we quickly became a group. A family, as clichéd as it sounds, made up of sisters and brothers. Sleeping in a room with 15 other people does that to a person. We each had our own bunk in a massive dormitory. Luckily, I was neighbours with a girl who always had snacks! And she was even messier than I was. But we laughed! Late night chats lit up by torches to gossip about the hot Spanish lad and the latest camp relationship to go wrong was a nightly occurrence. We lived in our little bubble of bliss. Those were moments and memories that will be treasured, as they were as magical as all of the shooting stars we spotted on overnight camping trips.
So my attempt at bringing glamour to the outdoors immediately failed. I soon realised that firstly, there was no-one to impress, and secondly the only way to impress is by getting stuck in! Therefore, when the chance came to wade through the creek, wear an uncomfortable and unflattering harness and stand on a table to belt out camp songs, I embraced it. Yes, you might not look great, but when the doe-eyed kids are staring up at you and singing along to ‘Boom Chicka Boom’ you forget all about that and sing even louder. Rather than being a princess, who would scream at every spider, I decided to learn about and appreciate the outdoors. I have never looked back since…. well apart from with spiders. I still hate them!
As camp drew to an end, we sat in a circle and said our emotional goodbyes. Vowed to remain friends. Some of us had made travel plans together. We ventured out around the States, starting in Vegas and ending back at home, New York. I remember the plane ride to the UK vividly. Sitting still and silent as the plane ascended into the clouds, a tiny tear fell down my cheek as Journey played through my iPod. Don’t Stop Believing was our song. We claimed it in the summer of 2009, the summer where I fell in love with America, summer camps and the best group of friends we could have asked for!
5 top American summer camp memories
Making s’mores over an open fire whilst an American boy strummed his guitar.
Learning camp songs such as ‘Boom Chicka Boom’, ‘There was a Great Big Moose’ and ‘Baby Shark.’
Taking a group of children white-water rafting, and being the only one who fell out of the raft.
Camping under the stars and trying to spot shooting stars in the clear night sky.
Creating opportunities for funny pics with my camp buddies. Planking was an obsession.