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JJ’s Travel Guides #3: Santa Monica!

Welcome to the third instalment of a series of city ‘guides’ that I’m writing about the places I visit this summer! Our third stop of this adventure was the beautiful Santa Monica! To see my other blogs in this series, click here!

The trip from downtown LA to Santa Monica took about an hour on the metro system and our accommodation, Hostelling International Santa Monica, was only a short three block walk from the Santa Monica Metro Station. I’ve stayed in several HIs across the US and I strongly recommend the brand as they are always super cool, clean, safe and reasonably priced hostels!

After getting settled in our room we headed out to see the famous beach and pier. Unfortunately, by the time we got out, it was already getting dark but, we were only two small blocks away from the beach so went regardless. On our walk, we discovered a small pizzeria called Joe’s Pizza where we both got two giant slices each. We strolled through the crowds down to and along the pier. After a little exploration of the pier, we walked down onto the beach and spent some time admiring the scenery. Once we were tired we walked back, stopping on the way to get another slice of pizza from Joes.

After getting ready and enjoying a free breakfast we headed out to spend our first day in Santana Monica on the beach! We basked in the sun for a few hours enjoying both the heat of the sun and participating in nature’s finest spectator sport: people watching! Soon enough we were hungry so we decided to walk along to the beach to the nearest cafe. After a lunch of hot dogs, we began walking along the beautiful beach broad walk towards Venice Beach.

Venice Beach is district south of Santa Monica, famed for its free spirit and creative expressions. We explored the Venice Broadwalk, the world renown muscle beach and the troves of independent artists and small souvenir stores before we headed to the Venice Canals to enjoy the tranquillity of the quiet canal paths.

After a few more hours on the beach, we walked back to our hostel to freshen up. My brother was keen to shop so we went to see the 3rd Street Promenade and he shopped to his heart’s content. Aware that the sunset was upon us, I dragged him away from the busy shopping street and we headed down to the beach just in time to witness a beautiful west coast sunset. Once the night was upon us we headed to McDonald’s and with high ambition ordered and ate 40 McNuggets!

Only on our last whole day did our bodies finally overcome jet lag and treat us to a lay in. We spent the morning shopping on both the 3rd Street Promenade and in the Santa Monica Place shopping mall. After lunch at Chipotle, we decided to try the craze which has been sweeping Santa Monica by storm over the last few months; ride-sharing electric scooters!

We had noticed when we first arrived that there were loads of people riding scooters and there were also scooters littered all over the sidewalks. Upon asking we learnt that you could rent the electronic scooters via an App and once you were done you just left the scooter wherever for the next person to use.

There are two rival companies to choose from; Lime and Bird, and we used one of each. Both companies Apps allowed you to view the scooters nearby and told you how much battery was on each scooter. Once you had found and were next to your chosen scooter it was as simple as scanning the QR code on the handlebars to unlock it. The scooters were just as easy to ride with a button on the handlebar that let you accelerate up to 20mph and another to brake.

We cruised along the beach Broadwalk towards Venice until my Bird scooter came to a sudden stop and wouldn’t start again. I soon realised that my phone had run out of battery. Annoyingly we had brought a portable battery with us but had forgotten to bring a charging cable. In order to continue riding we had to return to our hostel and so we precariously attempted to share a scooter ride back. After a test of our collective balance and after a couple of close shaves we were able to get back, juice up my phone and unlock another scooter. We set off riding the scenic beach Broadwalk and eventually made it to a tattoo studio in the Venice area where my brother wanted to get inked. After two hours of tattooing, we unlocked our scooters and whizzed back along the beach well eventually making back to the Santa Monica pier area where we found a spot on the beach to watch our final west coast sunset.

On our way back we hit a few last stores for souvenirs and enjoyed our last meal together on the rooftop terrace of a Cheesecake Factory restaurant. The next morning we were up, packed and in an Uber bound for LAX by 8am. At the airport, we said our goodbyes and headed to our separate flights.

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Thanks for reading! – JJ 🙂

-Read my other city guides here!-

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JJ’s Travel Guides: #2 Los Angeles!

Welcome to the second instalment of my series of city ‘guides’ in which I shall be writing about the places I visit this summer! The second stop of our adventure was the sunny Los Angeles!

Our time in LA started at 7.30am on a glorious Saturday morning. My brother and I had taken an eight-hour mega bus from San Francisco through the night and we were very tired and hungry at Union Station. Once we had got our bearings we decided that whatever we were going to do, it was going to be a very relaxed day.

I’m a huge fan of the tv show New Girl. Like huge. I’ve watched all the episodes time and time again and a few weeks before we left I was on IMDB and stumbled across the street address for the actual New Girl apartment building and I knew I had to go take a look! Much to my brother’s disgust, I decided it’d be our first stop! It was only a 20-minute walk from Union Station and what we discovered was a very cool and pretty hipster area called the Arts District. We eventually found the New Girl building and it was as cool as I had expected! I tried to contain my excitement whilst posing for photos as locals walked past!

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Afterwards, we headed to Denny’s for very American breakfast of eggs bacon and home fries. After a little wonder around Little Tokyo, we took shelter in a Starbucks to cool off and kill time until we could check into our hotel and drop off our heavy bags.

We were splitting our time in LA staying at the Libra hotel near downtown for two days and then spending three nights at the HI Santa Monica, in Santa Monica. The Hotel Libra was a very nice basic hotel run by a very friendly lady and is conveniently located close to a metro station.

After relaxing in the room for a short while we had to make moves as we had tickets to see the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team! We took the metro to Union Station and decided to walk through Chinatown to Dodgers Stadium. The game was a lot of fun even though the Dodgers lost 5-3 to the Atlanta Braves. I highly recommend attending any kind of American Sports game as there’s always a wonderful atmosphere and it’s a great way to experience some true American culture! We were able to get a free shuttle bus from the stadium to Union Station and took the metro back to our hotel for a good night sleep!

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We spent our second day in LA exploring Hollywood! We woke up later than expected but it was so good to catch up on the sleep we lost during our bus journey from San Fran. Our first stop was the Griffiths Observatory and we were able to take a shuttle bus up the hills for only 50¢ from the Vermont and Sunset Metro Station. The view of the whole city of Los Angeles from the Observatory was incredible and really made you realise how huge the city is! We wandered through the exhibits in the observatory’s halls, and then exited on the western terrace to be treated to a view of the world-famous Hollywood sign! We spent a while admiring the spectacular view and taking photos before we hopped onto a shuttle bus to take us back down into the city.

Our next destination was the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and it was a quick trip on the metro to Hollywood and Vine stop. After a pit stop at Starbucks, we followed the south side of the star-studded sidewalk first, stopping to look in souvenir stores and to take photos of whoever’s gold stars we cared for. On our walk back along the north of Hollywood Boulevard, we stopped to do some window shopping in the Hollywood mall. Once we had completed the trail of celebrities we headed back to our hotel to collect our bags so we could take the metro to the second part of our time in LA, Santa Monica.

Thanks for reading! – JJ 🙂

-Read the first of my City Guides here!-

How to Survive Orientation Week!

Picture this: You just stepped off a bus in the middle of the woods. You’re tired, hungry and stiff from the long bus journey. There are people you don’t know excitedly screaming and hugging other people around you. Someone you don’t know yet just took a picture of you. You can feel the sun shining through the trees and can smell food nearby. You have arrived!

These opening moments of camp can be a whirlwind of overwhelming excitement and anxiety. You might not know anyone other than who you sat next to on the bus and you might not be sure what their name was; BUT (and it’s a big but) don’t worry. You are definitely not going to be the only person with these feelings of unknowingness. Even as I go into my fifth year at camp, I get memories of the apprehension from these initial moments of my first summer.

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(Me getting off the bus my first summer)

Orientation week (the staff training week before the kids arrive) is up there as one of the most fun parts of camp. You’ll be participating in training workshops, team building activities, and setting up activity areas and cabins. You’ll be getting to know people who’ll become some of the best friends you’ll ever make and learning to do the best job that you’ll probably ever have.

Through the rest of this blog, I’m going to cover some advice that I think will be beneficial in getting you through the first days of your orientation week.

  • Lower Your Arrival Expectations..

I don’t mean to start on a downer and camp might be the most incredible place on earth but most camps are only used for a few months during the summer. So one really important thing to bear in mind is that when you first arrive, the cabins may be a little grubby, dusty and unimpressive. Don’t be put off, just remember the chances are that the buildings haven’t been used in the last 10 months. Besides, the mess won’t last long as one of your tasks during orientation week will be for you and your counsellor team to get the cabins clean and ready for the arrival of the campers!

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  • Sit with new people!

One thing that’s great about orientation week is that you can sit wherever you want for training sessions or meals (during the rest of camp you’ll be sitting with and supervising campers). Take advantage of mealtimes to talk to as many different counsellors as you can. I always try to sit with different people each meal so that I can meet everyone and find out a bit about them. Meals also provide the best conversation starters as you can just start talking about the food in front of you or ask people their favourite foods and snacks!

  • Try to learn peoples names (at least the important ones)

I’ve mentioned this in previous blogs but I’m quite firm in the belief that names are the most important part of someone’s identity. Luckily, everyone in orientation week and for most of the summer will be wearing name badges. I always challenge myself to learn everyone’s names during orientation week, and as I already mentioned I do this by trying to sit with everyone during meals!

Of course, expecting you to learn everyone’s names is unrealistic if it’s your first summer and you don’t know anyone at all. In this case, start with the people most important to you; your co-counsellor team, maybe your activity area leader and the key members of the administration (e.g. the camp director).

There is a second part to learning names, you also need to remember pronunciations and whether people have any prefered nicknames. A big part of camp is about accepting people for who they are and there’d be nothing worse than calling somebody a name they don’t like, so take the time to ask what people prefer you call them.

(My 2018 counsellor team)

  • Try to pay attention during workshops

A large part of orientation week is made up of workshops which will cover a wide range of topics ensuring you’re as prepared as possible for the tasks you’ll be carrying out in the summer ahead. The content of these workshops will be vital to your ability to be a superstar counsellor and they’ll be full of helpful advice and useful tips so don’t be afraid to take notes. It’s possible that some workshops might get a little dry and if they do, there will probably be movement breaks and other fun activities to get you energised and refocused. Often I find some of the orientation sessions far more interesting and valuable than most of the university lectures I’ve been too.

All this being said, it’d be very unreasonable to expect you to remember everything that’s said during orientation week. In my opinion, knowing who to ask for further information about something is far more critical to your ability to succeed, than knowing all the information in the first place. This way, if later in the summer if you do happen across an issue you’re unsure off, you’ll know exactly where to go to ask for them help.

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  • Be confident in yourself

Americans can be intimidating to us Brits; they can be loud, proud and very energetic at times. Introducing yourself is going to be a big part of orientation week, so try not to be shy. Try to subdue those feelings of uneasiness and take the opportunity to make as many friends as possible by talking to people, sharing stories and contributing to the unavoidable discussions with your fellow Brits such as ‘tea Vs dinner’ and the exact point of the UK north/ south divide.

One thing that’s bound to come up during orientation is the need for you to think of an interesting or unique fact about yourself. Not only will these make great topics for conversation later in the week but there’ll also be things that people remember about you. Interesting facts about yourself can be quite hard to come up with on the spot, so have a think before you get to camp of the things you’re proud of and willing to share with everyone! My fun facts have included that I was an unseen extra in a Busted music video and I once woke up and ran a marathon without any training!

  • Be brave and put yourself out there

Camp is an opportunity to discover things about yourself that you might not have known you can do but you’ll never know unless you try it first. My advice is to take every opportunity you can and try your very best at each. Who knows what you might be amazing at. My first summer I arrived with no real specialist skills and ended up becoming a qualified archery instructor as well as being able to lead paddle boarding and overnight camping trips.

One thing that scares people around the world is a request for a volunteer. This can be a great way to put yourself out there as an eager to help counsellor. If someone asks for a volunteer don’t just sink into the crowd, be brave and put your hand up. Whatever it is they want you to do, it’s not going to hurt; but it is going to show everyone else that your willing to jump in and bring everything you can to being an awesome camp counsellor!

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Like the sound of challenging yourself to take on new opportunities? Check out the Camp America website here and find out how to get yourself the best job in the world!

Good luck! – JJ 🙂

JJ’s Travel Guides: #1 San Francisco!

Welcome to what I hope is the first of a series of city ‘guides’ I’m going to be writing about the places I visit this summer! As you may have guessed from the post title, my first stop of this summers adventures has been the wonderful San Francisco in Northern California! I’ve been lucky enough to spend the last two days here with my younger brother Charlie who’s joining me on my first week of travelling.

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We arrived at Oakland Airport in the evening and easily navigated the Bay Area’s ‘BART’ metro system to the centre of the city where our hotel was located. We stayed at the Elite Inn during our time in SF and whilst it was cheerfully cheap, the standards of the hotel left a lot to be desired and the surrounding neighbourhood was very questionable, however, these were the only negatives we experienced during our time here in San Francisco.

After a jet lag induced early night, we both woke up ridiculously early to begin our first day exploring. We headed to a nearby diner and both enjoyed the classic American breakfast of pancakes and coffee. After a friends recommendation, we headed to rent bicycles from a store called Blazing Saddles in the Union Square district. We were able to rent two comfortable and reasonably affordable bikes for the whole day. I would also highly recommend Blazing Saddles as the staff were really welcoming and provided us with a route that would allow us to easily see the sights we wanted too!

The first stop on our route was Alamo Square where we stopped to admire the city skyline. Then we headed through the Golden Gate Park and enjoyed cycling down Arguello Boulevard until we had to climb up the other side of the hill! Here we entered the amazingly beautiful Presidio Park, where we cruised along the forest roads and stopped at every photo opportunity along the stunning coastal road. We followed the winding route down towards the Golden Gate Bridge.

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My SF Standout Moment: Cycling downhill through the beautiful Presidio Park!


After a couple of photo stops, we began the blustery crossing of the bridge, swerving to avoid the endless droves of selfie-taking tourists. The Golden Gate Bridge is a fantastic sight and once we had crossed, we spent some time at Vista Point taking the classic tourist photos. Luckily on our return across the bridge, we had to use the bike only path on the opposite side of the bridge, this meant we could enjoy our time crossing the bridge without having to slow down for anyone in our way. Once we were back on the San Fran side of the bridge we rode down the cycle paths of Marine Drive and through Crissy Fields all the way to Fishermans Wharf, making a quick stop for lunch at a Safeway grocery store. Once we got to Fishermans Wharf we locked up the bikes and wandered around the area. We eventually stumbled upon a pier which gave us a phenomenal view of the sun setting across the bay! After the sun had set we cycled back through the city to return the bikes to the rental store and made a quick trip to Chipotle for a late dinner.

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For our second day in San Francisco we were hoping to tour Alcatraz Island and Prison, however, before we even left our hotel we realised we won’t be able to as every tour for the day was sold out online. Whilst this was a little disappointing weren’t going to let it ruin our last day in SF. We checked out of our hotel and used a really great website called BagBNB to find a place where we could store our bags for the day at the very reasonable price of $6 a day, per bag.

For breakfast we headed to a Boudin Bakery to get bagels made from San Francisco’s oldest Sourdough, and whilst we were in the Union Square area we decided to hit the shops and spent a while in both Macys and the Westfields shopping mall. Shortly after midday, we joined the queues to ride the world-famous cable cars at the Powell Street Turn Around. We waited in line for about 30 minutes and then it was our turn to hop on and hang onto the handles of the cable car. The trip to Fishermans Wharf lasted about 25 exciting minutes as we climbed and rolled up and down the famous steep hills of San Francisco. The ride cost $7 which we were able to pay once onboard and in my opinion was really worthwhile!

After the thrill of the cable car ride, we realised we were really hungry and decided to visit California’s iconic In-n-Out burger restaurant. Unfortunately, it was super busy, we waited about 45 minutes to get served and to then get our food. I personally enjoyed my burger and fries but wasn’t a fan of their milkshakes whereas my brother was less keen of the oils the fries were cooked in. After our meal, we sat on the Aquatic Park Pier and watched a huge storm blow in across the bay and almost cover the Golden Gate Bridge.

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Once we got bored of the storm we slowly walked all the way along the Embarcadero to the Ferry Building, stopping at souvenir shops along the way. We hopped onto a Metro bus to head back to pick up our luggage, Uber-ed to the Caltrain Station and we’re now waiting for our bus to our next stop: LA!

All in all, we’ve had an incredible time in San Francisco and I would recommend anyone to visit this delightful city if they ever get the opportunity!

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Thanks for reading! – JJ 🙂

And we’re off!!

The day I’ve been waiting for since last summer has finally come around! After a long winter, it’s time for summer! But before I head to Camp I’ve got two weeks of traveling in the US.

For the first week of my travels I’m of to California for the first time to explore San Francisco and Los Angeles with my younger brother! After this I’m flying all the way across the US to Philadelphia and New York City!

I’m super excited to be back in the US for my fifth summer and even more excited to be spending time in California with my brother!

Stay tuned for a series of blogs I’m going to be writing in between exploring with a run down of what we get up to in each city and my advice to anyone thinking of heading to each city whilst post camp traveling!

-JJ 🙂

8 First-Year Worries and the Reasons You Shouldn’t Worry About Them!

If you told me the prospect of travelling alone to take a job in a foreign country, halfway around the world doesn’t scare you in the slightest then I’d think you were lying. Worry is natures way of keeping us safe, it keeps us from doing stupid things and most of the time it’s well validated. It would, therefore, be natural that venturing on a cultural exchange programme like Camp America would push you out of your comfort zone.

Before my first summer, my inquisitive personality led me to tons of questions about all aspects of my placement at camp in the USA. Whilst I wouldn’t describe them all as critical worries, there were still a lot of answers I wanted. Luckily for me, a returning superstar counsellor called Chad reached out and provided the answers for most of my big questions.

The intention of this piece is to show that it’s okay to have concerns prior to travelling to camp and to provide some answers to some of the most common worries a first-year camp counsellor might have. Whilst writing this blog I reached out to the staff at my own camp and asked what their concerns were in their first summers, so believe me when I tell you that the following worries are all genuine!

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1. Working With Kids

For some people, participating on the Camp America exchange could be their first real experience of working with children and this can be an understandably daunting prospect, but you shouldn’t worry too much. First of all, before you even leave the UK you will have to attend a Camp America orientation session which is not only full of fun and games but will give you lots of useful information and advice to prepare you for working with children. In addition, almost every camp runs some form of orientation training at the start of camp. These orientation sessions, which typically last around a week, cover a wide range of topics in detail and will most likely include sessions about how to be the best counsellor possible.

2. Cabins

Many camps describe their cabins with words like ‘rustic’ and ‘traditional’ – but what do these words mean? Before my first summer, I had visions of shacks without proper doors, windows or electricity! Fortunately, when I arrived I discovered my camps cabin’s had all these things and more! Every camp will have different styles of cabins and you can click here to read a post I wrote about cabins last summer! It is important to remember that the camp cabins aren’t likely to have been used for nine months when you first arrive (US winters can be quite extreme, I visited my camp in the snow last December and it was -30°C!!) therefore the cabins might appear a little grubby but don’t worry this won’t last long!

3. Money

Money is probably the biggest concern for all Camp America participants and it’s a really hard thing to give general advice on. In respect to spending money, I think there are two different periods of spending money. Firstly, the amount of money you spend during the summer whilst working at camp will be linked to how much time off you get and this ranges by camp type. If you’re going to a ‘day camp,’ chances are you will have weekends free, whereas if you’re at a private sleep-away camp then it’s likely you’ll only get one day off a week plus a few nights off duty too. How much money you’ll end up spending during your time off is also dependent on where your camp is located. For instance, if you’re on the outskirts of a city like Philadelphia, it’s likely you’ll spend more time, and therefore more money, in that city compared to if you’re located in the wilderness of Utah for example. My camp is located in the considerably rural Upstate New York and I roughly budget around $50 per day off and aim to spend no more than $20 a week on nights off duty.

The second period of spending money for most comes whilst travelling after camp has ended. This is even harder to advise upon as the chances are you don’t know where you’ll be heading yet. My personal budget for travelling the US is $100 per day and I break this down into $50 for food, tourist activities and souvenirs, and the other $50 for that night’s accommodation. Whenever I have money left at the end of a day I put it into a ‘treat kitty’ which I use to buy more expensive things such as theme park tickets or new clothes.

Camp can be as cheap or as expensive as you like, and this is why it’s so hard to give help on the subject. Just because you have a smaller budget doesn’t mean you’re going to have less fun, but that being said my final piece of advice on the matter is to take as much money as you realistically can. You’ll definitely feel reassured knowing you have some kind of safety net and just because you take it all doesn’t mean you have to spend it.

4. Travel

As I’ve just discussed the financial side of travelling I’ll skip that here but remember you’re travelling ambitions can only go as far as your pockets can pay. A lot of people worry about planning travel after camp and my advice is simple. Don’t. Over the summer you’re guaranteed to make some amazing friends and it’s likely you’ll want to make plans to travel with them after camp ends. Therefore my advice is to book your flight home and hold off making any solid plans until you’re at least a week into camp.

Travel in the US can be very affordable and you’ll have plenty of options for getting from one place to another. It’s worthwhile downloading the apps for Amtrak (trains), Greyhound (buses) and Skyscanner (flights) as well as HostelWorld (hostels) and Booking.com (Hotels and Hostels) to help you make your plans.

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5. Packing

Even those who’ve been to camp before struggle to know what to pack or even what to pack their stuff into, therefore it’s likely you might too. Of course, there’s a rough list of things that are essential for camp (think swimwear and sunglasses) but pretty much everything else will come down to individual opinion. I normally take a suitcase but I find this leads me to overpacking as I want to fill up all the space. This summer I’m spicing things up and taking a backpack and forcing myself to make more sensible packing decisions (like not packing two pairs of jeans when I only ever wore one pair once last summer). For more information on packing, check out both my 25 Things You Should Bring To Camp post and my in-depth packing list post which I wrote before last summer.

My top tip for packing is to bring clothes that a) you don’t mind getting dirty, stained or lost, and b) bring stuff that you don’t mind if it gets left behind. I always end up buying loads of stuff out in the US and struggle to bring it all home. This summer I’m sticking to buying some basics from H&M that I don’t mind sacrificing if need be for my voyage home.

6. Making Friends

Whether or not you’ll make new friends this summer is a legitimate concern, but probably a concern you should worry the least about. In my experience, people who participate on the Camp America programme are very similarly minded and this means it’s very easy to get friendly with people. It’s also worth remembering that almost everyone is in the same boat, in that it’s very unlikely you’re going to be the only first year at your camp and even returning staff can be nervous about meeting new people.

You’ll be meeting people from all over the world so you’ll have loads to talk about and orientation week will be full of activities with the intention breaking the ice! Besides, once camp has begun; you’ll have loads of shared experiences to bond over!

Camp really is a wonderful place for making very special friendships, most of my closest friends are people I met at camp and we have some incredible memories together. Whenever we meet up we can spend hours reminiscing about our favourite camp moments!

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7. Phones Networks

A lot of people ask advice about whether to bother investing in a phone SIM card package throughout their time in the US. Whether this is worthwhile depends on your camps locations, whether they have rules on phones and whether they have accessible WiFi. Camps located in remote areas are likely to have limited network signal and so you might end up wasting your money. Some camps have very strict electronic device policies and require phones to be locked away in offices for the duration of the working day and even if you are allowed to keep your phone the chances are you’ll be way too busy to get the chance to look at it. Personally, I really enjoy a break from excessive use of social media whilst I’m at camp. Most camps provide WiFi access for international counsellors and you’re almost guaranteed to end up somewhere with WiFi on your days off.

This summer I shall be getting a one month AT&T Prepaid SIM package to use whilst travelling and then once I’m at camp I’ll just use WiFi.

8. Homesickness

Even after years of camp, I’ll admit to getting homesick from time to time and as fun as camp is, the chances are you might get homesick too. Everyone has different methods for dealing with homesickness and my following advice is based on what works for me, but I do know people who take the exact opposite approach.

Every summer I always take a small selection of (appropriate) photographs of my family and friends which I pin up above my bed. Not only does this help to remind me of my home but it also provides the opportunity to discuss my family and friends with my campers if they’re ever feeling homesick.

I also advise that you limit your communication with home during the first part of your summer. This will help you to both reduce homesickness and help you to adjust to camp life. I really can’t recommend enough that you totally engross yourself in camp life as you wouldn’t want to miss any opportunities because you were too busy skyping. I send a WhatsApp message home every few days and I call home once every two weeks. I’ve also taught my parents how to use Snapchat and Instagram so she can following my social media updates! I strongly advise against scheduling a time to call home each week as camp weeks can vary greatly and there’s nothing worse than waiting up late for someone who doesn’t call. It’s definitely worthwhile letting your family know if you intend to follow any of these tips to avoid any unnecessary worry if they don’t hear from you for a few days.

My final tip of this post is to give people your camp address! Mail is a huge part of camp life and your campers are likely to receive a couple of pieces of mail a week. I recommend dropping your camp address on your Facebook, as well as giving it to your nearest and dearest family members and this way you could get mail from anyone! I always explain to my campers that the best way to get mail; is to send mail! So don’t forget to send some postcards home!

Thanks for reading! JJ 🙂

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Why Do I Keep Going Back?

The other day someone asked me why I’m bothering to return to summer camp for a fifth year. I straight away responded with a few of the reasons that make camp so great and impacts it’s had on my life. Their question stuck with me for the day and had me questioning my own justifications for returning. Later that day I was looking back at all my camp experiences from the last four years. The more I thought about camp; the more excited I get for my upcoming summer and that’s how I knew I was making the right decision.

So directly influenced by the questions of a stranger, this blog is going to cover the main reasons why I’m returning to camp!

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The Greatest Job

Simple, it really is the best job in the word. During one day at any other job would you get to paddle board in the brilliant sunshine, dress up like a superhero all whilst helping children to be successful and to make memories that will last a long time. If nothing else, it certainly beats my alternative of working in retail through the summer…

The Sweetest Campers

Needless to say, camp is for the kids. And camp wouldn’t be anything without kids. They’ll make you laugh, make you mad and make you proud, all the space of a few hours. You’ll come to know them so well you’ll be able to predict their next prank, you’ll know their favourite foods, activities and t-shirts. My utmost favourite part of camp is watching my campers in the last few days of the summer, seeing how far they’ve progressed and reflecting on how much fun we’ve had as a bunk. Nothing will ever compare to that level of satisfaction.

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The Travel

Whether it’s on days off or once the summers ended, you get to see a lot of the USA whilst at camp. It’s a huge country, it’s unlikely you’ll even scrape the surface of what’s on offer but you will still get to have some incredible encounters and often the more obscure ones are the best! Over my summers I’ve been to an Irish Folk Festival, loads of sports events, and eaten at so many diners, food trucks and fast food restaurants that I couldn’t even remember how many.

The People

Whilst working at a summer camp you’ll get to meet people from all over the world. Over my years I’ve met people from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, as well as people from all over the UK and the USA. Friendships at camp are forged with a combination of shared experiences and the stress from challenging situations, all mixed in with the heat of the summer and a crazy amount of fun. It’s no wonder that even after months of being apart; my camp friends will always be some of my best.

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The Memories

Camp is a truly wonderful and unique place in the world. When every summer comes to an end, I’m always very sad, you’ve had such an incredible time it’s likely you’ll never want to leave. you’re certain to suffer through the dreaded ‘camp blues’ once your home. But

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The Only Bad Thing About Camp

If I haven’t made it abundantly clear in previous blog posts, working on a summer camp in the USA is an incredible experience that will give you no end of awesome opportunities. Yet there’s one bad thing about working at a summer camp and it affects everyone…

Working at a summer camp, like all things truly great, must eventually come to an end. It’s unfortunate, but ultimately the summer has to wind up and you’ll be home just in time for the autumn leaves to begin to fall. #sadface

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Your time at camp will fly by, it always does. You’ll be doing the most exciting activities, in the most glorious weather, and with the most fantastic of friends and so, it’s most likely camp is something you’ll want to remember forever. The trouble is you’ll have so much fun at camp that it can be easy for the days to blur with excitement and the weeks to soar by in the blink of an eye. When you do finally get home, all your friends and family are going to be asking about your summer and the only comeback I was ever able to muster was “Errr… it was all incredible” as I tried to remember anything specific about my life-altering summer.

So here are a few things I recommend you try throughout your summer to ensure you’re able to tell you Camp America story once you get home!

  • Keep a diary, write a blog or just make weekly facebook updates.

My first summer I kept a brief daily run through of what happened on each day in the notes section of my phone. It really was as simple as a list of the activities that we did, maybe the food we ate and anything that was particularly notable. It might not sound like much but when I got home it really helped me to remind myself of all the things I got up too!

In the years since I’ve taken to trying to make weekly Facebook status updates that just list the top picks for that week. Last year I attempted to make a weekly blog on this site but I failed miserably due to a load of additional university work I had to work on. (This summer though I am 100% committed to keeping this site updated weekly! So stay tuned!)

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  • Take all the photos you can!

You must have heard that famous old expression: ‘a picture paints a thousand words;’ well, last summer I took over 4,000 photos and that equates to a whole lot words! Taking photos throughout your summer is a great way of capturing loads of memories from your summer. Photos are a must during your time off camp, how else will people know you’re having the time of your life in the USA? You’ll definitely end up taking photos of your huge diner breakfast, there’ll be pics of your day off crew and more than likely an awesome sunset photo or two. Once you get home you’ll undoubtfully end up sharing your #campblues on Instagram and these pictures will be a great way to remember camp forever.

There are a few important things to remember about taking photos, firstly the chances are you won’t be allowed to post photos of children anywhere online in any capacity. Secondly, if you’re taking photos whilst at camp remember that your first responsibility is always to look after your campers so try not to get caught up framing the perfect shot if your kids are out of your sight!

  • Keep all those little mementoes

Some might see this as low key hoarding but I tend to keep all the little ticket stubs, tourist maps and other little trinkets I come across on my travels. I save them all up in the zip pocket of my bag and then we I get home they’re a great thing to pull out, look through and remember events, activities or places I’ve been. I have a shoebox under my bed with all these mementoes in from over my last four years of travelling and it’s a great treasure trove of camp memories.

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  • Buy the souvenirs!

The absolute best way to remember your summer is by all the goodies your going to bring home. Think foam baseball hands, mini Empire State Buildings and the absolute classic I heart NY t-shirt! If there’s one souvenir you will most likely come home with its some sort of sports clothing from the team closest to your camp! If there’s one thing Americans take seriously its sports and even university teams can have huge stadiums and incredible ranges of branded clothing! At my camp, the local big team is Syracuse Orange and almost every counsellor will end up owning ‘Cuse t-shirt or baseball cap. Top tip: Thrift stores can be great places to buy this type of stuff if you don’t want to pay full price!

  • Get all the camp merch’

Similarly to buying souvenir clothing, Camp America as well as your camp specific branded clothing make the ultimate keepsakes. Not only do they look cool as hell but there also super unique to you. I have loads of camp branded t-shirts and sweaters and all my home friends are always asking if I’ll get them one! It’s not only clothing, I’ve also got a camp branded coffee mug, backpack, and some other less useful, but still fun bits of merchandise. Without a doubt though, my all-time favourite piece of camp merch is my camp branded red tartan pyjamas! Not only are they super cosy but they’re also very practical at camp where sleep attire is something to consider! Camp America has a great range of clothing in their online store here!

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  • Friend those friends!

Last but definitley not least, make sure you link up online with all your new camp friends! Trade Snapcodes, Insta handles and ensure you’re able to stay in contact with the only people ever likely to understand your camp memories. Soon your home friends will begin to roll their eyes when you start a story with “this one time at camp…” but your camp friends will always be up for a late night Skype chat about that one time you capsized a canoe. Another reason to get connected is that lots of camps have reunions later in the year and you’ll definitely want to make plans with your camp friends so you can maximise your time for catching up! Trust me when I say; there are no friends like camp friends.

Sign up for a summer like no other at www.campamerica.co.uk/

 

6ish Tips to Help You Succeed at a Special Needs Camp

This blog is going to be a quick look at some things you should consider whilst working with children who have special needs. Even if you aren’t going to be working at a special needs camp this summer, I believe these are great things to keep in mind when working with any population of children.

Northwood 2017 (1383)Firstly though, there are two key things to note:

  • Every child is unique.
  • Every interaction you have with them is going to be unique.

For these reasons, it’s important to know that my following tips aren’t going to be something to live by whilst you’re out working with children, but hopefully, they’ll give you a place to start!

Finally, before I begin, I might also mention that I’m currently writing this blog whilst on a break from writing my university dissertation on communication strategies for children with autism… so if this gets long it’s because I’m avoiding my boring university work and daydreaming of camp!

1. Don’t Forget Names

 First up, a person’s name is the centre of their identity, whilst some people will be quite open to the idea of nicknames others won’t. If you meet a child whose name can be shortened ask them how they prefer it. Try to avoid nicknames like ‘mate‘ or ‘pal’ because, asides from making you sound incredibly British, these could be taken literally and it can be important for the campers to know your there as a counsellor, not their friend. Take time to learn children’s names, even the ones who aren’t in your cabin, just imagine how powerful it can be to a child who’s a ‘nobody’ at school to realise that one of the cool counsellors knows their name, even better if you can remember something they did recently as well!
“Hey Charlotte, you were awesome in last nights talent show!”
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2. Don’t Apply Social Pressure

Try to avoid placing pressure on a child for ‘social norms’. Regular social cues that you and I take for granted, may not be presented straight away, if at all. For instance, children with autism often find eye contact particularly difficult, so avoid phrases like “look at me when I’m talking to you” and instead check they are listening by kindly asking them to repeat back what you’ve said.

Similarly, don’t expect immediate responses to all your questions, a child with slow processing abilities can sometimes take a while to understand what you’ve asked them and it can take further time for them to develop their response. Ensure to give them plenty of time whilst you’re interacting with them but also avoid patronizing language, most often they’re aware of their inability to quickly respond and further comments can easily lead to even more pressure and frustrations.

On the topic of speech, it’s definitely important to be aware of how you say things. Like I mentioned earlier, quite often children can take things literally and they’re especially unlikely to pick up on sarcasm. Be sure to state instructions clearly, and also be prepared to explain any regional differences in language time and time again e.g; tea Vs dinner; football Vs soccer. It’s always worthwhile getting them to repeat what you’ve said if you’re unsure if they understood.

There’s a story my director tells of an argument with a camper who was refusing to get out of bed in the morning. The counsellor’s final words in the argument were; “fine you just stay in bed, and we’ll do the chores.” Later the child had to sit out of activities and he explained to another counsellor that he didn’t know why he was in trouble because his counsellor had said he could just lay in bed and not help with the morning chores!

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3. Prepare for Transitions

Transitions can be the most difficult part of a daily routine for children to navigate, negative behaviours may arise when the child isn’t sure what’s happening next or simply due to the loss of the activity they had been previously engaged in. Most camps run pretty tight daily schedules just like schools do, and this can be taken as far as to schedule individuals showers and even who collects the mail on what day. Your cabin will most certainly have a daily schedule posted and then it will be important for you to know what times activity periods start and to communicate to your campers which activities are taking place at what times each day so they can prepare themselves. Then just make sure you aren’t late to avoid any unnecessary timing issues.

Children, as well as adults, often thrive when they’re running on tight schedules but negative situations can soon arise if there are unpredictable changes such as rain or broken equipment. In these circumstances, it’s important to let the child know exactly what’s happening instead and to keep them updated if further changes have to be made.

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4.  Try to Address Obstacle Avoidance 

It’s no secret that children are sometimes badly behaved, but many adults don’t take the time to investigate the behaviour and there’s always a reason. Sometimes when children encounter an obstacle, such as a task they don’t know how to perform, it can be easier for them to engage in inappropriate behaviour rather than approach an adult for help. If you take the time to observe a negative situation, it’s likely you’ll see the causes for the child’s behaviour. Show them how to gain help or work with them to create an alternative method of communicating they need help. Ensure to reward them with appropriate social enthusiasm if they do ask for help and you’re likely to see improvements straight away.

All of us experience situations from which we wish to momentarily escape. An important social communication skill is asking appropriately for a break from an activity or group of people. Again, if they are unsure of how to get help, a child will sometimes engage in inappropriate behaviours in order to escape. If you identify these behaviours, offer the child an option of a brief break. These breaks should involve various rules concerning how long the break should last and what the child can do during the break. At the specified end of the break, the child should be reminded about what positive reinforcement is available for returning to the group or activity. For example;

“Jamie, you can sit out for 2 minutes but you most rejoin when that times up. If you rejoin the group when I say it’s time, you’ll be able to go play with the Legos later.”

5. Schedule the Little Things

Following the theme of scheduling small breaks, if you have to ‘wait’, clarify how long the wait could or will be, as it could easily be interpreted as ‘not now, not ever’ by the child you’re working with. If you’re not sure, try to avoid guessing specific times and instead emphasise that you are unsure and if you really must, use a much larger time frame to avoid any disruptive behaviours if there are further delays to the schedule. Always allow the child to eventually receive the desired activity or item.

Another little thing to schedule can be conversations, if you don’t have time to talk to a child who wants to talk to you, don’t just shut them down. Ask if they mind you coming back later to finish the conversation. If you do use this technique, absolutely ensure you make the effort to go back and finish that conversation.

6. Fairly Split Teams

Lastly, don’t pick teams and definitely don’t let campers pick teams. It’s likely that campers with additional needs are last to be picked for teams at school, so don’t make them experience the same bad feelings at camp. Split up a group using easy questions or ‘favourites’ categories and keep splitting them up this way until the groups look even. The longer you work with a group the better you’ll know what equal means. For example;

“Everyone who had cereal for breakfast on this side”

“Everyone who’s wearing stripes go over that side”

“Everyone who’s favourite colour is pink over here”

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Thanks for reading! -JJ 🙂

Imagine…

In a previous blog post, I wrote about the perks of choosing to work at a summer camp for children with special educational needs. In this post, I want to talk about the special needs camper and what summer camp means to them.


Imagine that you go to school and get teased for your stutter, bullied for your physical difference or laughed at for not understanding something. Imagine being the last one picked in sports class, not having anyone to hang out with after school and never being invited to birthday parties. Imagine being rushed and pressured and pushed into doing things you don’t want to do or don’t even understand. Imagine not knowing what’s next and not being able to prepare for it. Imagine no one likes the things you do and having nobody to tell your favourite jokes too. Imagine feeling that no one understands you and imagine not believing in yourself.

Now imagine this.

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Imagine there’s a place where you do fit in. A place where you can feel relaxed and not pressured. Imagine there’s a place where difference doesn’t matter and individuality is trendy. Imagine a place where you can be successful, supported, and understood. A place where everything is clear and you know what, when and where everything is. Imagine a place where everyone knows your name and appreciates your interests. A place where there are people like you, who like you, who are interested in the things you are and they laugh at your jokes. Imagine a place where you get to be the cool kid and do the things the cool kids do. Imagine getting to try new foods, new games, new water sports and feeling like a new person with new friends. Imagine being celebrated as a superhero or performing at a talent show. Imagine dressing up for a prom and getting to go with your friends. Imagine having counsellors who guide you and support you. Counsellors who listen to you, believe in you and don’t give up on you.

Imagine wanting it to never end. Imagine living ten months of the school year and dreaming, praying and waiting for those two months of camp.

Could you imagine yourself as a special needs counsellor? Supporting children with additional needs to have the summer of their dreams?

Find out more at the Camp America website!

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