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 🙂

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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 🙂

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/

 

25 Things You Should Bring to Camp

DSC_0046Going away to camp for the first time can be a hard thing to pack for; it’s basically a super fun holiday but it lasts a lot longer and you probably don’t know exactly where you are going to be staying, let alone what you are going to be doing daily. I found it hard packing my first summer as I wasn’t entirely sure what I would need or rather, what I wouldn’t need but luckily there was a returning counsellor who had friended me on Facebook and I was able to quiz him on what was worth taking.

So here’s a list of twenty-five things I think are great to take with you stateside. A list that’ll hopefully help you prepare for your summer!

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1. Your passport and all the other important paperwork

This is the only thing on this list that you actually have to bring with you and without these things, you are not going to get very far. Important paperwork includes you DS-2019 Certificate of Eligibility, a printed copy of your medical insurance certificate, a printout of your flight details, a copy of the Camp America Participants Handbook – which is a good summary of all the important to know stuff, a copy of your ‘arrival in America instructions’ and finally at least $150 in cash.

2. Camp America T-shirt

This t-shirt holds a lot more power than you think. Not only does it look great but when you turn up to the airport and see somebody else wearing it, you know that you can go right up to them and say hello. In my first summer, I met one person when I first arrived at the airport and by the time we got to the plane there was easily thirty of us all wearing the same t-shirt about to go to the same camp.

 

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3. Your Phone

In 2017 your phone is everything, it’s your camera, your music and your connection to everyone, you probably wouldn’t get to the end of your street without it. Despite this, there will be days at camp where you don’t even think to check your phone and it’s possible to go weeks without opening the Facebook app minutes after you last closed it. Don’t leave it behind though as you shall definitely want to call home at some point, plan your end of summer travels and post awesome Instagram photos.

4. Beach Shoes

Flip flops, sandals, Crocs? Every camp has a lake or a pool, or even both. Chances are you will end up spending plenty of time in the water and then walking around camp afterwards so whatever style you choose, make sure they are comfortable!

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5. A Torch (Flashlight)

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it gets dark at camp, a lot of camps are located in forest areas and not all the areas of a camp will have lights. So, to make sure you don’t go wondering off into the woods at night, take a torch. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy just bear in mind the smaller and brighter the more useful it’ll be. Amazon has dozens of styles which can be fairly cheap.

6. A Waterproof Watch

For the most part, camp life runs on a pretty structured schedule and your need to get to lunch on time can make a big difference to how much time you get to spend eating. Not only are you going to need to know the time, but the campers are going to be asking what the time is (a lot), so you make sure you get a comfortable watch that you can wear both during swim sessions and on the sports fields.

7. Sun Cream (Sun Block)

It’s summer, it’s going to be hot and you don’t want to be the one that gets burnt in the first few days and then has to suffer whilst stuck inside for a while. You are going to be responsible for making sure your campers don’t get burnt so ensure you are prepared for being their role model. Don’t forget you have all summer to perfect your tan!

8. US plug adaptor

America has funny looking plugs that are different to ours here in the U.K. and that means you’re going to want an adaptor so you can plug in your electrical things. Amazon sells packs of two for about £5.

9. Sunglasses

In my three previous summers, I’ve learnt one thing about sunglasses at camp; buy cheap ones. Over my three summers, I’ve lost or broken 14 pairs of sunglasses. Camp life moves pretty quickly; the fast pace and fun of camp activities can easily lead you to forget where you have put things and then there’s the off-duty antics which can lead to anything happening. This summer, my goal is to hold on to one pair of sun glasses and not sit on them.

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10. Labelled Clothes

Speaking of losing things, writing your name in your favourite hoodie can make finding your stuff a whole load easier. My camp is fairly small compared to most with a total population of fewer than 200 people, but plenty of clothing can and does go missing every summer. In addition, with a population of special needs children, it can be easy for a camper to not realise what is theirs. My advice is to write your name or initials in everything… but not so that it can be read whilst you are wearing it!

11. Swimwear (One piece AND two piece)

You are going to end up swimming at some point this summer, you don’t want to forget your favourite swimwear. Dependent on what work you’re going to be doing you may need more swimwear than others. I personally take at least three pairs of shorts because there’s nothing worse than putting on a wet swimsuit. Whilst selecting your swimwear remember that you are going to be working with children and need to keep things modest. Gentlemen that means no speedos, and ladies no bikinis. However, for your times off-duty you can wear whatever you like, and most days off can involve as much water activities as camp days so bring your speedos and bikinis or whatever you feel comfortable with for your own time.

12. Raincoat

Unfortunately, it rains in America and whilst it doesn’t rain as much as  in the U.K., when it does rain, it pours. I have seen some incredible storms during my summers and during these rainy days’ camp life still has to go on and you are still going to need to walk to the dining hall for breakfast. A small lightweight sports coat or poncho will do.

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13. USB battery charger

Travelling around can leave your phone battery flat and a USB battery will give your phone a power boost and keep your Instagram-ing alive. It could even lead you to make some friends if a person you’re with is out of battery juice. I have two and use them all the time whilst travelling, they are especially useful if your phone battery is a little unreliable. You can get good portable ones on Amazon for around £10.

14. Warm clothes

Daytime at camp can be beautifully sunny and warm, but the mornings and evenings can sometimes cool down so I always take a pair of warm comfortable trackies and at least one hoody or sweater.

15. Fancy dress

A lot of dressing up happens at camp, my camp runs a themed dance every week with themes like country western, Hawaiian luau, superhero and movie characters. Don’t pack massive costumes but consider anything small and simple you may have and then you will always be able to buy or make additions to your outfits. Fancy dress is also a great way to boost spirits around camp on some of the less exciting days so consider anything fun but make sure it’s all child appropriate and friendly!

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16. Flags

Flags are a great way to decorate cabins and show off where you are from or even what teams you support. Last summer I hung a large half British half American flag outside my cabin and everyone seemed to love it. There are loads of flag designs or even bunting on Amazon if you don’t have anything.  (Flags also make great capes for superhero themed fancy dress!)

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17. Toothbrush (or two)

I forgot my toothbrush last year and whilst I was able to get a new one relatively quickly, it’s not something you want to be without. Maybe bring a spare just in case something happens to your first.

18. British chocolate!

You may have heard that there’s nothing quite like British chocolate and unlike American sweets, their chocolate sucks. Bring a stash of your favourite chocolate to keep you going on some of the colder nights on duty or use it to cheer up a friend halfway through the summer. I never leave for camp without a box of Cadburys Heroes!

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19. Comfortable shoes

Camp can be tough on the feet, there is a lot of walking and running around and a pair of super comfortable trainers will make your summers a whole lot more enjoyable. I always bring two pairs in case one gets wet. Don’t worry about bringing serious hiking boots unless you’re told too, as the chances are you’ll be fine with trainers which also take less space in your bags!

20. Extra socks

Speaking of feet, you can never have enough socks at camp; it can be hot and sweaty and occasionally wet, plus you are bound to lose at least one in the laundry so bring lots, you won’t regret it.

21. Deodorant

Weirdly Americans aren’t big fans of the spray style deodorant we use here in the UK; they only seem to sell roll-on deodorant, so if like me you prefer spray deodorant then make sure you bring a bottle or two!

22. Bugs spray

There can be lots of mosquitos around camps with lakes, especially at the start of the summer so protect yourself from the chances of bug bites and bring a good quality insect repellent.

23. Bluetooth speakers

Music is a wonderful thing at camp, it’s great for waking children up in the mornings, soothing them to sleep at night and keeping them entertained throughout the day. Portable speakers are ideal at camp and you can buy all sorts of styles from Amazon. Also, check out the Camp America Spotify playlist for an awesome summer soundtrack!

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24. Hobbies materials

Things like friendship bracelet making or card games can be great ways to pass down time at camp and campers will love watching, helping or even learning how to do new things. I always bring a colouring book to camp and then photocopy the pages so my campers can enjoy colouring some relaxing patterns.

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25. Prom Suit!

Finally, the summer ends with a prom and smart attire is the dress code (although there is no real dress code). Bring a dazzling summer dress or your sharpest shirt, for you shall want to be looking your very best. But don’t go overboard dress shopping, it’s probably going to be very hot and a little less formal than your imagining. Something from River Island will do.236

See more of my blog posts here!

 

 

Camp What?

What even is Camp America?
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For the past four years, I have spent my summer months living and
working in sunny America on a cultural exchange programme that sees young adventurous individuals work at children’s summer camps across the USA. Camp America is a company which secures work for applicants at summer camps where they work as camp counsellors.

Counsellors are an essential part of summer camps, second only to campers (children). Counsellors provide the activities and entertainment whilst acting as guardians, looking after a group (or bunk) of several children. Particularly at sleep-away camps where children stay for several weeks, all counsellors are assigned to a bunk of campers to whom are they will look after for the duration of the campers stay. Alongside this most counsellors will also be instructors in a specific ‘skilled’ role such as a football coach, arts and crafts specialist or swim instructor.

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Individuals with advanced experience and certified skills in activities will be sought after to run the activities that keep summer camps fun but generally speaking, most often some personal experience of particular activity and a strong confidence to give it a go will be enough to qualify any counsellor to at least help teach an activity. For instance, I instruct archery and paddle boarding at my camp but when I first arrived I only had small experiences of either but I showed that I was eager to help and now I have been able to gain a certification in instructing.

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In addition, Camp America also sends individuals to work at summer camps as support staff who’ll be working behind the scenes in the kitchen, laundry, maintenance or as administrative staff. These positions are essential as they keep camp life going and are ideal for those who are less inclined to work directly with children or who perhaps don’t speak confident English but still wish to participate in the cultural exchange programme.

Applicants to the Camp America programme are all interviewed and greatly supported in creating applications that will make camp directors want to hire them. Camp America offers a range of events to find out information throughout the year and also several recruitment fairs which give applicants the chance to meet camp directors face to face and get themselves hired!

Find out more about Camp America on their website!

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