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The Reality of Camp America

If you’ve never experienced Camp America then you can’t be blamed for considering it the holy grail of summer jobs. The promise of several weeks in America, a new culture, new friends, an exciting country to explore and fantastic work experience – what could be better? However, let’s remove the gloss and take a look at what Camp America failed to tell us.

The leading organisation, which offers work and volunteer opportunities abroad, was misleading from start to finish. The initial issue with the company was the cost, which failed to inform prospective workers on their website of mandatory monetary expenses. To some degree the company has now recognised and resolved the issue this year. The website now states that each worker will be sponsored and must pay the value of £495, £35 for a CRB check, £135 for a US embassy appointment and £400 as a legal requirement. Prior to this only the sum of £495 was initially clear.

The second issue was the mandatory £60 medical fee at the University, which included nothing more than measurements of height, weight, BMI and a blood pressure test. Even Wii Fit can do most of that for you. Furthermore, If you don’t remember to complete your medical, you may be charged in excess of £150 at the camp, out of your wages. Ouch! And that’s not to mention the small cost of £40 for a uniform.

Looking at the accumulated costs, total payment averages around £1170, as long as you’ve already had a medical. The idea of a cheap, expenses-paid trip to America seems to be a slight misconception.

Furthermore, when hours spent working to salary per week are considered each worker is earning a little less than 80p an hour after the company has taken their share, and the camp have provided some diabolical excuses for food. On certain camps, members of the kitchen service were made to work around 70-80 hours a week sometimes with no break; typical working days started at 6:30am and finished at 10pm or later. However, workers were only contracted and paid for 40 hours per week, and when camp directors were challenged they simply rejected any such claims. An American living in a nearby town commented, “It’s not fair how they treat foreigners, we all know they do it and get away with it. We all feel sorry for you.”

If 70-80 hours per week doesn’t quite whet your appetite for a Camp America experience, then maybe the attitude of the camp directors will. Several people left the camp this summer, and all were treated with hostility.

People were dropped off in a town 200 miles from the airport, with little direction as to how to get there. The directors of the organisation had been made aware that counsellors were uncomfortable on camp, but rather than easing their concerns, treated them with a lack of respect and rudeness. In one instance, it was arranged for a replacement without even discussing it with the counsellor in question.

As another American from the town nearby recounted, “One young Hungarian man arrived at the town after being fired for little more than misunderstanding an instruction. He spoke perfect English and the boy was clearly confused and disappointed. He had $40 in his pocket and no idea what to do. I helped him find the bus stop and bid him a safe journey.”

Another one of the biggest misconceptions of camp is free time. It was expected that travel to nearby cities would be possible but this is not always so. On this camp, campers were provided with a return bus to the nearest town, and only six days of free time in nine weeks. In their free time, when they were taken to a remote river they were conveniently dropped off next to a bar even though many were not able to drink as the legal drinking age in America is twenty-one. Camps claim to abide by rules but ‘what we don’t see we don’t know’ seems to be another widely adopted policy.

Clearly, camp is not for everyone. My advice when attending an orientation is to not to believe everything you’re told. If you have no patience for childish games, skits and sing songs, then walk away while you have the chance. It should be noted that not all camp experiences will necessarily be negative but, before you get sucked in by the bright lights of New York, remember to be careful what you sign up for.

Jono Hoyer

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12 Comments on this post.
  • Stephanie Harris
    8 October 2012 at 17:23
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    Great article – I’ve never been to Camp America but I’ve heard similar stories from people I do know who have been, and I’ve also been abroad with an NGO under the premise of doing conservation work, only to be very disappointed in the details the website missed out. It’s good to read an article exposing the truths about such organisations because most of the time their real objective is making money, not giving you the fabulous life experience they promise.

  • Settit
    28 November 2012 at 11:20
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    I did camp last year and had the time of my life! I was very wary of going with Camp America and went instead with Camp Leaders who interviewed me in Mooch.

    Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water though, it sounds like you had a really bad camp. The wages are pitiful but found that at the end of camp I’d roughly broken even-and anyway camp isn’t something you do for the wages.

    Moral of the story: Don’t sign up to Camp America (find another agency instead).

  • James
    28 November 2012 at 14:46
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    I went with BUNAC a couple of years ago and had a great time! Yeah you work hard but you expect that and to be honest i treated it more of a working holiday then a job so the wages weren’t important to me, if i wanted to earn a decent wage over the summer i would have stayed here and worked in a supermarket. My wages for the course of my 8 week stay covered the cost of going to camp with a bit left over. But once i was there i had essentially received ‘free’ flights to the US and could spend the rest of my wages, my tips and some of my own money travelling around America

  • Becca
    28 November 2012 at 15:45
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    Camp America are just one organisation out of many, and admittedly it’s not for everyone. The majority of people I know who have been have had an amazing time. I went with CampLeaders who were brilliant.

  • David P
    28 November 2012 at 17:12
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    I went directly to the camp that I worked at in 2011, pay wasn’t great but $1,600 for the 2 months meant I had plenty to travel around with after finishing. I had a great time and was treated well. My advice would be to approach camps directly. They also covered all of my costs and I didn’t need a medical

  • Jon
    29 November 2012 at 13:55
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    Having read through the comments on an article published on the 30th of August it would seem very strange that 4 people decided to comment 3 months after the article was written. Moreover all 4 comments were placed on the same day. I am aware that Camp America recruiting takes place now. Just a point for anyone trusting the validity of the above comments.

  • Jon
    29 November 2012 at 19:52
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    Joe C, the chances that four people who went to Camp through three different organisations would comment on the article on Impacts website within 6 hours are about as slim as you winning a decent amount on the lottery. A few of the comments sound like the most promotional comments that a student could ‘claim’ to make.

  • Dave J
    29 November 2012 at 20:05
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    To be fair, I must admit I suspect Joe C to be correct. I genuinely look at articles where there have been recent comments – it’s not inconceivable, given Impact’s traffic, that four students who’ve been on such trips to America would notice, particularly given the challenging title.

    Whoever the impact web developer is should look at expanding that feature – there should be more recognition of which articles are currently ‘hot’, so people know what to look at.

  • Krill
    12 May 2014 at 15:52
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    I must agree with jon, those comments do look rather promotional especially for four in one day.

    Anyhow, Camp America is clearly a business, and to toss around ‘organisation’ is a clever little fabrication. A substantial amount of money has to be made from these people who decide to become camp counsellors for the business to continue right?

    There are way better ways to do these things than to go through the first thing you find on google promising an american dream holiday at camp!

    Get in touch with friends/relatives/colleagues who live/know/have been to america and find out the best situation you can put yourself into from people who wont lie to you. Directly contacting legit camps is the best option if thats what you want to actually do with your time. Even try http://www.workaway.info because you only have to get yourself there really, no money swaps hand! Goodluck travellers!

  • Salona
    20 October 2016 at 14:18
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    Especially, non-english speakers(asian countries etc).
    A camp is using students in their own non-contract purposes to save money.
    Be careful.

  • PSM
    23 January 2017 at 13:06
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    Indeed, it seems as if all (corporate) American business leaders absorbed the same theory of slash-and-burn economics.

  • December
    23 January 2018 at 18:35
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    There are HUNDREDS of different companies offering “Camp America” trips, you need to be clear about WHICH company this is about in particular.

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