Temporary Home: Camp America

Summer 2017 was without a doubt the best summer of my life, and it was spent working as a camp counsellor in Greeley, Pennsylvania.

This trip really starts back in October 2016 with the application process, which was a lot of paperwork and form filling. From this came the endless five month wait until my acceptance. The excitement of being accepted to go to Camp America, was then followed by a very stressful visit to the embassy in London to finally get my VISA, in March 2017. Throughout these periods my American adventure was already hugely electrifying. Camp America’s updates and advice emails and booklets were not only helpful but really helped to maintain my enthusiasm.

By the time it got to June, I couldn’t wait to leave. I’d spent a week packing and double (maybe triple) checking that I had everything I’d need (only to later spend half my salary in Walmart on ‘forgotten items’). By sheer coincidence, I met two people I’d be spending my whole summer with in the airport. After the flight and a very eventful van trip, with only one car crash, we reached camp in the pitch black at around 2am. I don’t think I’ve ever fallen asleep so quickly. Waking up, I had absolutely no idea what the camp and my cabin looked like. It’s crazy that within the week that place would feel like home.

“Toward the end of summer we were all ridiculously tired”

My camp was an all-boys camp for 6-15 year olds. I worked as a lifeguard and also taught swimming, water-skiing, wakeboarding, fishing and canoeing. Being on duty and supervising the kids almost constantly was, I won’t lie, a huge amount of work. Toward the end of summer we were all ridiculously tired; though the endless energy from the kids and my co-counsellors really kept me motivated to keep being creative in what I was teaching and doing each day. (Also, getting to drive massive speedboats to teach the boys to water-ski and wakeboard is that much fun that it hardly feels like work.)

There are also plenty of whole-camp activities that happened, such as Gold Rush, Camp Olympics, Mystery Marathon, trips to see baseball and more. At my camp, the feeling of family was a source of constant support. I was ‘cabin mom’ to the boys in Cabin One (the youngest members) and the way other counsellors would help each other out was wonderful. More incredible still though, was how the older boys would really take the homesick youngsters under their wings and make our jobs easier. Everyone knew they could rely on each other.

“…this was a constant source of hard work for me”

One of my proudest achievements from this summer was teaching an amazing, autistic camper to swim, as this was a constant source of hard work for me, but at the end of the seven weeks he pulled through and swam two lengths of the dock in the lake with me walking alongside him. The buzz I got after we did that is something I’ll be looking for in whatever job I go into in the future.

One of the most obvious signs of how close we became as a camp family was at the end of the first and second sessions, at four and then seven weeks, where campers and counsellors left to return home. I have genuinely never seen so many people just crying their eyes out with no shame or embarrassment: everyone was that emotional. Having these campers, who you’d grown so attached to, leave was honestly one of the most painful things I’ve ever experienced, whilst at the same time an addictive community feeling I can’t wait to go back to.

“If you are even considering it, my advice would be just take the plunge and apply.”

After camp, I had the opportunity to travel. I went to New York, Washington D.C., Philadelphia and Nashville all in the space of 10 days! Although I had some 17-30 hour long trips, the sites were always worth it. Truth be told, I miss living out of a suitcase and moving every few days.

Camp America was the craziest and most unbelievable experience of my life so far. Anyone who knows me will know that I struggle to shut up about it. If you are even considering it, my advice would be just take the plunge and apply. It was the hardest, most emotionally draining, tiring and heart-breaking summer of my life, and I wouldn’t change a thing. As much as I love university, there is something I miss about never being really clean, eating American food, and being at the constant beck and call of hundreds of kids. I never thought I’d long for days where I had eggs cracked on my head and got dunked in a tank of freezing cold water, but I really do.

Cathy Cooper

Image credits: Cathy Cooper

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