Camp Counselor of the Week: Layla

In our last counselor interview (which yes, was a while ago!), we heard from Kyle, an American who found his love for camp as an adult, having never been as a kid. This time, it’s over to Layla who has spent 3 summers working at camp in upstate NY.

1. Where did you go to camp? How many years?

French Woods Festival in the Performing Arts, in Hancock, upstate New York. It’s a gorgeous setting in the Catskill mountains! I worked there for 3 summers (so far), with a gap in-between years two and three!

2. Why did you decide to work at summer camp?

I think like many other foreign camp counselors, I saw it as an opportunity to have a fun summer in America in a way which I’d also gain something for my CV/resume… it just seemed like the perfect way to spend a summer as a student!

3. What agency did you apply to camp through and would you choose them again/how did you find their service?

USA Summer Camp. I honestly can’t complain, they were extremely supportive all the way through, always answered emails promptly and kept me in the loop with all aspects of it. I actually worked for them as an ambassador after my third summer, which was a nice bit of extra pocket money, too! 

4. What is/was your role at camp?

I was a camp counselor and French horn tutor (very niche!). My camp was a performance based camp, so while it has all the traditional aspects like a lake and ropes course, the kids choose their program based on their own interests. I taught students who play my instrument, and played alongside them in concert band, symphony orchestra and other ensembles. The staff and more advanced campers also played in the pit orchestras for the camp’s musicals, so I was basically playing for 6+ hours a day! And then had librarian duties within the department, too!

I also lived in a bunk with campers who were doing all sorts of activities throughout the day. So I had all the regular camp counselor duties on top of my departmental ones. 

5. Did camp meet your expectations? In what ways?

It did in the sense that it was super American, rural and fun. It was more full-on than I was expecting, but in the best way! What I didn’t expect was the momentum I’d go home with, after newly discovering how much could be achieved in one day… 

I also had no idea how much I’d bond with the people there. I still speak to my friends from camp regularly – in fact, many of my closest friends are people I met there. Because you get to know them in such a face-to-face way, without the hindrance of technology, and also go through so many emotionally turbulent moments with them, you get super close unbelievably quickly! 

6. What 3 essential items would you never go to camp without?

A water flask (I love my Chilly’s one) – hydration is what helped me keep my energy up at camp! It’s super long days and you need to stay upbeat, plus it’s hot – so I definitely recommend it. Plus, it’s great for the environment! 

Something to use to teach the kids about where you come from. The J1 visa is a ‘cultural exchange’ visa, so it’s only right to exchange some culture! 

Sliders. I think they’re the perfect camp shoe – so comfy and ideal for hot days, plus it doesn’t matter if they get wet or mucky because they’re so easily cleaned! (Crocs are also great – don’t judge! They’re a camp staple…)

7. What is your best/favourite camp memory?

It’s actually impossible to choose just one over three summers. My camp is extremely performance-oriented, and there were some incredible moments… maybe meeting Disney’s conductor and composer, who led us in a Disney concert! Not something I’ll ever be able to (or want to) forget! 

Day-to-day/general camp stuff was great though. Off-periods with your friends, the days off after so many days that are all go. S’mores parties by the lake! The huge blowout for 4th of July! I can’t actually comprehend how I could choose just one!

8. What is/was your favourite camp food?

I was all about the Thanksgiving meal they did once each session! Turkey with all the trimmings, and a bizarre American concoction of mashed yams with marshmallows on top (candied yams)! 

Taco day was also a favourite for me. Who doesn’t love tacos?! 

9. What is/was your favourite camp cheer/chant?

There was a sort of drumming pattern we did on the dinner tables, and it’d start with someone yelling “give it to me one time!”. It was sort of tribal and I loved it so much! The whole room would automatically turn into a big rhythmic boom!

10. What is your favourite camp saying/word/expression?

It’s very specific to my camp, but because so few people venture to the sports hall for their programming, there was a funny moment any time any sports-related news was being announced at a meal, and everyone was just shout “SPORT!” and throw a fist in the air! That’s a silly one though. 

My camp director says something during staff orientation each year which really resonated with me, and is definitely true for everyone who works at camp. 

“This is the hardest job you will ever love”, and it’s seriously true. 

11. Where did you travel to after camp (if you travelled)?

Right, here we go! 

My first summer, I went on a road trip down to my friend’s home in Miami. I stayed there for a week, then flew back to New York for a week to hang out with some friends. Then I went and spent a week in Toronto with a friend I’d met at uni on his exchange year! Loved all three, would definitely recommend.

My second summer, I travelled before camp with my friend from Miami. I met her there, spent a week, then we spent a week road-tripping up to camp. We did Atlanta, North Carolina, Virginia, Philidelphia, New York and then headed to camp… it was awesome! After camp, I spent some time in NYC, then went to L.A. to visit my brother with one of my co-counselors. I spent 10 days there, then headed to Boston for a long weekend before coming home. 

My third summer, I did a little less. By then, all my Floridian friends and a good few from other states had moved to New York, as had my aunt, so I just spend a couple weeks couch surfing and hanging out with people there. I did go to D.C. for 3 days to do touristy stuff, too, though!

12. How has camp influenced you/who you are/what you do?

In so many ways. I have so much confidence in myself, to take on challenges and see the world. I go after what I want, and I know how much I can achieve when I put my mind to it! On a personal level, I wasn’t that confident in my ability to play my instrument, but I’ve played over 25 musicals now, and I have no fears about applying to orchestras that I’d have thought were well out of my league before. 

I also know I have an incredible reference, should I ever need it! I was applying for grad jobs while at camp, and my boss actually walked in on an interview not seeing the sign I’d put on the door, and stopped to boast about how incredibly hard I work. Americans tend to give out positive affirmations a lot more freely than Brits, so I guess my ego got a little kick, too! 

13. What is the BEST thing about being a summer camp counsellor?

I think you just get to learn so much about yourself from being a camp counselor. You learn what pushes your buttons, you learn your strengths and weaknesses. On top of that, you find out what aspects of your personality you love and don’t, and you adapt and grow. You know you’re impacting on peoples’ lives daily, because the kids will show you how much you mean to them. You’ll surprise yourself with how emotional you get saying goodbye to campers and co-counselors you’ve come to know and truly love. I think you’re just filled with an incomparable gratitude for how much you gain and are shaped as a person, that I can’t really sum up into words! 

14. What’s the WORST thing?

The exhaustion. I’m not a person who often gets emotional over struggles, but every year without fail, something breaks me. It’s universal. Everyone hits a wall at some point, after working such incredibly long hours for so many days in a row, and there are times it feels like it’s too much. But you feed off other people, and the people around you pick you up in your times of struggle, as you do for them. It’s part of the reason you become so close to the people that you work with!

15. What the most important thing that camp has taught you?

To allow people to help me when I need it. I’m not one that easily burdens other people with my own woes, but to some degree, you have to at camp. You and the people around you become a unit, rather than an individual working towards something. It’s difficult being vulnerable, but it creates much stronger bonds!

16. Anything else you want to say to people thinking about working at summer camp?

So much! I actually run my own blog, and have a lot of dedicated articles and case studies. It’s aimed at students, young people and gap year goers who want to travel and see more of the world. If that sounds like you, visit it below!

Link – main blog (https://studytravelrepeat.com)

Camp counselor case studies (https://studytravelrepeat.com/camp-counselor-case-studies)

Summer camp blogs (https://studytravelrepeat.com/summer-camp-counselor-usa

If you’ve worked at summer camp and want to take part in the SCS Counselor of the Week series, leave a comment below, send us an email or find us on social media!


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