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.