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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 🙂