It’s been a few weeks since the last counselor interview with Dominic, but this week it’s over to Liam who is going back to camp this summer after a year away!
1. Where did you go to camp? How many years?
I went to Camp Homeward Bound in New York State – about an hour north of NYC in Bear Mountain. I have only been to camp the once so far back in 2014. After a gap in 2015, I will be returning again this summer!
2. Why did you decide to work at summer camp?
It started out when in my first term at university I received an email saying Camp Leaders were due to give a talk at my university. I had always wanted to go to the USA, but had never been able to afford to do so – so the fact I could earn whilst out there was appealing. Summer Camp was something I had never considered before, and it was rather a snap decision to apply.
Really, I had nothing to lose by going to the presentation, and after that I was totally hooked. The thought of working in the states, doing what I love and giving kids and amazing summer sounded incredible!
After the presentation, I stayed up very late into the evening completing my profile and had an interview booked later that week…
3. What agency did you apply to camp through and would you choose them again/how did you find their service?
As much as Camp Leaders did the presentation at my university, I researched into pretty much every other company (Camp America, CCUSA, Americamp, BUNAC etc) to see how they compared. Camp Leaders always came across as very professional and helpful – so it was a no brainer going with them.
What I love about Camp Leaders is that they just know what they are doing, and will help you in every way they can. I can phone them, email them or even tweet them and they will always give me an answer quickly. Their staff always go above and beyond too – with their ‘National Team’ of interviewers and office staff giving personalised advice, being prepared to talk about their own experiences at camp or dropping you a text or a phone call congratulating you for being placed.
4. What is/was your role at camp?
I worked at camp as a lifeguard and swim teacher, and then assisted with the lower boys unit in the evening – and I will be returning to do the same in the summer.
I wouldn’t really want any other job at camp. I’ve been swimming for a club for over 11 years, so I love nothing more than swimming. Plus, there is nothing better that diving into the lake when it’s really hot outside!
5. Did camp meet your expectations? In what ways?
The one thing I didn’t expect about camp was how tough it would be at first. My first week or so of lessons was a huge challenge. I had coached swimming before, but this was at a club level so the ability of swimmers was very different, which I was not used to at all. Working at an underprivileged camp meant the behaviours of the children wasn’t always great, mainly as they never really had been taught how to behave, so this took a bit of adjusting at first.
But, despite it being a challenge, camp more than passed my expectations. I had no idea that I would enjoy camp that much. Spending most of the day swimming, living in the beautiful American countryside and becoming very close to a great team of people… It really was living the dream.
6. What 3 essential items would you never go to camp without?
Probably relates more to travelling, but my first suggestion is a good set of guidebooks. Being able to do some research on the places you’re going, such as insider tips, a little known bar or restaurant or even a few facts about the city/attraction you’re heading to is great. I managed to even earn the nickname ‘Factoid’ for always knowing something interesting about the places we visited.
Second, would be A LOT of towels. Trust me, if you’re lifeguarding, a clean dry towel is a huge plus at the end of the day. I brought 4 – two for lakeside and two for showers, and ensured they were washed as regularly as possible. I would thoroughly recommend buying some cheap towels from somewhere like Wallmart or Target to reduce the weight of your bag though, as my bag was usually a bit marginal on the airline bag limits.
The one thing I couldn’t do with out was actually my iPad. Perhaps an unusual suggestion given my camp lacked good internet, but it was very useful. They say there is an app for everything, but it was great for doing research, posting photos or Skyping home.
I also started blogging whilst in the US, using my iPad to type posts offline, then upload them when I had internet. It was a great way of switching off after a long day and allowed me to collect my thoughts and reflect on the day. Plus is gave friends, family and others interested in camp regular updates. Check it out at liamfromcampleaders.blogspot.co.uk
7. What is your best/favourite camp memory?
There are almost far too many to choose from…
The memories that really stand out though are the ones where you feel you have done something that makes you feel proud. One moment that really stands out was during the second session of kids where I felt I had really ‘cracked’ being a camp counselor. Kids seemed a lot happier with my lessons, and I felt like I knew what I was doing – going from ‘faking it’ to ‘making it’. Several times during that session campers thanked me, or said they were having a great time. It didn’t happen too often, but this was a huge confidence boost, and was a great reminder that all the hard work you put into camp is paying off.
8. What is/was your favourite camp food?
As much as mealtimes were great, campfires were definitely the highlight. I was usually one of the counsellors who would lead the campfire, cooking the usual things such as hot dogs over the camp fire (we would wrap a group of them in tin foil, place the pack on a spade and balance that over the fire – worked really well!). There is something that is just ‘typical camp’ about cooking on an open fire so naturally I loved it!
9. What is/was your favourite camp cheer/chant?
“Wide awake, alert, enthusiastic”
Usually we would do this song if people were a bit tired at breakfast – but this was more than enough to get people going for the day!
10. What is your favourite camp saying/word/expression?
Not really a saying/word/expression, but the campers can say some pretty incredible things – especially the lower boys. Although most of it isn’t repeatable as they don’t always quite understand what they are saying – but funny none the less!
11. Where did you travel to after camp (if you travelled)?
I spent 14 days travelling – flying from my camp in New York to New Orleans, then working my way back up the coast to New York. From New Orleans, I moved onto Orlando, Miami, Washington, then back to NYC. I spent 2/3 nights in each, often travelling by coach overnight.
It’s very hard to pick a favourite place, as each was distinctly different. I loved how chilled New Orleans was, yet loved the busy-ness of New York. Washington was very cultural, yet Orlando was literally just theme parks. I think it worked well the destinations I visited because they were so different.
Most of the way I travelled with a small group from camp – 2 other lifeguards and other counselor. Part of the way (in Orlando and in New York) I split from the group and travelled solo. As much as I love being with others, travelling solo gave me great freedom to do exactly what I wanted, and didn’t feel lonely at all – so I’d recommend trying it.
12. How has camp influenced you/who you are/what you do?
The main thing camp has taught me is to be confident in my own ability. Camp was tough, yet I was able to overcome that and thrive. It showed me anything is potentially possible if you just try – and that if something doesn’t work first time, something else will.
Whilst very different to camp, I managed to secure an internship in a bank, and I believe the mentality camp taught me was a huge help in both getting the internship and in my role at the bank. I now think nothing of taking on difficult tasks, or applying for jobs that seem ‘ambitious’. Camp has made me a lot more confident and more willing to take a risk – and nothing now is too difficult.
13.What is the BEST thing about being a summer camp counsellor?
It is the people that make camp, and the best thing is how close you become to some people. Most are on camp for the same reason, so you’ll find people with common interests and build great friendships with them. I still talk to a fair few people from camp on Facebook, and cannot wait to see a few other returners this summer.
14. What’s the WORST thing?
Whilst great fun, camp is tough at times. There were days where I had a few rubbish lessons, the weather was awful (there was a week where it was unseasonably cold) or a camper was being a real challenge – where you would be just exhausted afterwards. Thankfully, days like that were rare, and the remaining days gave you the positivity to get through it all.
15. What the most important thing that camp has taught you?
After working at an under-privileged camp, the one thing I was taught was perspective.
The campers on our camp all lived homeless in New York City, and often faced difficult home lives, poverty and living in cramped shelters. Whilst every camper was different, contrast this to myself who has a loving family, a stable roof over my head and being able to afford experiences in life such as camp. To be honest, my life is not tough, and should always remember that.
16. Anything else you want to say to people thinking about working at summer camp?
Just go for it!
If you overthink it, and focus on what might happen, you might not end up going. I didn’t know too much about camp when I applied, but just went for it. Whilst I did do a bit of research, I made the decision quite quickly. I ended up with an amazing summer, and have at least 1 more still to come. If I hadn’t taken the risk and applied, none of that would have ever happened.