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!-

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 🙂

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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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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Summer ’17… Where did it go?

First things first, I’m sorry, it’s been 6 months since my last blog post and I have absolutely no idea what happened to all that time.

I intended to make regular blog updates throughout the summer but it came and flew by so quickly. Whilst I’m not certain what happened to the time that’s passed, I am certain that I had yet another incredible experience full of fun, sun and burger buns! Unfortunately, I had a large amount of university work to complete during my free time at camp this summer which meant no time for blogging (although all the extra work I completed over the summer meant I was able to study abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark for five months which was another truly incredible experience).

This summer marked my fourth time participating on the Camp America cultural exchange programme but it was still as much of an eye-opening and unique experience as my first summer! As well as great experiences, this summer also brought with it some incredible new friends and memories that I’ll never forget!

Fast forward to right now and I’m back in the UK to finish off my final year of university but before I enter the ‘real word’ of adulting, I’ve decided; excitingly and probably unsurprisingly for those who know me; to return to Camp America for my fifth summer!

I really can’t wait for the summer already but as June is little way off in the future, I’m hoping to pass the long wait for camp by creating content for this blog! So subscribe and stay tuned!

-JJ 🙂

Where Do You Sleep at Camp?

One of my biggest questions and concerns before I started my first year was about the cabins I would be staying in. I really had no idea beyond the descriptive terms used by the Camp America website of ‘rustic’ and ‘traditional’ cabins. I was imagining a combination of something like the Grandma’s house from ‘The Little Red Riding Hood’ fairytale or some kind of military style boot camp with rows of bunk beds.

When I arrived at my camp for the first time, I was actually surprised by how close my imagined cabin was to the reality. Some of the cabins are over 100 years old and were originally part of a hunting lodge, although there are some much newer cabins, the cabins are beautiful buildings and some look like they really could be part of a fairytale.

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Inside you will find beds that might not look like much but have been the place of some of the most comfortable nights sleep of my entire life. If space is a little short, counsellors may have to use bunk beds. Despite their age, all the cabins have electricity outlets near each bed and large bathrooms with heated showers.

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Of course, there are many different styles of cabin at different camps; some camps may use platform tents or day camps may use university halls as accommodation for counsellors. At most sleep away camps, the counsellor team sleep in the same room as the campers however some camp cabins may have separate adjacent rooms for counsellors. IMG_6164

One really important thing to bear in mind is that most summer camp cabins are only used in the summer and this means that when you first arrive, the cabins may be a little grubby and dusty. Don’t be put off as this won’t last long, one of the first tasks for you and your counsellor team will be to get the cabins clean and ready for the arrival of the campers.

On a final note, some camps may have additional buildings or even allocated space for tents that counsellors can sleep in when they are off duty (and not required to be in the cabin) to allow them to get a good night sleep away from the children.

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What Makes a Special Needs Camp Special?

There are literally thousands of summer camps across America and everyone of them is wonderfully unique. Even if two camps are owned by the same company they will be very different and that means no one ever has the exact same camp experience. Whilst there are thousands of camps, there are only five main types of camp and when you fill out a Camp America application you will have to select what types of camp you are willing to work at. Here are the five main types of summer campNorthwood 2016 (490):

  1. Mainstream Co-ed
  2. Single Sex
  3. Religious
  4. Underprivileged
  5. Special Educational Needs

These types of camp can then branch off into a wide variety of specialist camps such as specific sports camps (e.g. soccer camp, gymnastics camp), performing arts camps (e.g. violin camp, drama camp). On top of this, camps can span different periods of time; ‘day camps’ see campers visit during daytime and then go home at night to return the next day. Alternatively, ‘sleep away’ camps see campers stay days or weeks at a time sleeping in traditional dormitory style cabins under the supervision of counsellors.

Whilst any kind of childcare experience will be enough to get you a place on the Camp America programme, some religious and special ed camps will look for applicants to have specific experience within their respective field. It’s important for you to be super honest when you select what types of camp you are willing to work at as you don’t want to end up doing anything you aren’t comfortable doing.

Also, remember that whilst there are many different types of camps, they are all doing the same thing; letting children have a fun and enjoyable summer and no matter what camp you get placed at you will also have an incredible time.

That said, and rather biasedly I admit; I totally recommend special educational needs camps if you think you are up for the increased challenges that come with working with an incredible population of children.

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The camp I have worked at for the last three summers is a co-ed (boys and girls) special educational needs camp, which I specifically choose to work at after meeting some of the staff at the Camp America Recruitment Fair in London. When I applied I had about a years’ worth of volunteering experience from a local community club that ran two hours every Tuesday and provided sporting opportunities to children who were excluded from other local sports clubs due to their additional needs. It was very rewarding work and I was excited to find out I could do similar work in America through the Camp America programme.

My camp is a sleep away camp that lasts 7 weeks and focuses on improving social skills, self-esteem and independence for children aged 8-18 with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders, attention deficit disorders and similar conditions that make it hard for the child to make and keep friends. This camp runs all the fun types of activities that would be seen at a mainstream camp but there is extra emphasis on encouraging the three key aims of social skills, self-esteem and independence.

I love working at my camp, it really is an incredible place and I couldn’t imagine going to work at any other type of camp. So here is a quick list of what I think are the top benefits of choosing to work at a special ed camp:

  1. More staff – Due to the increased needs of the children, most special ed camps have a much higher counsellor to camper ratio. My camp has a 1:2 ratio which means for every one member of staff there are only two children. Mainstream camp ratios can get as high as 1:30! Cabin group sizes are also much smaller with my largest cabin having eight campers and there are only around 120 campers in total making it a very small camp compared to mainstream camps which can have several hundred.
  2. More time off – More counsellors on site means much more time off than mainstream camps, sure the time spent working can be tougher but you benefit greatly from the extra spare time!
  3. More friends, more fun! – The higher staff ratios mean you inevitably spend way more time making friends with other counsellors and this means you have way more fun in your spare time going swimming, for ice cream or partying.
  4. More rewarding (personally) – The smaller size of the groups means you really get to know your campers and create strong bonds with them which means it’s super awesome when you see them succeed and progress.
  5. More rewarding ($$$) – The nature of special needs camps can make the work more stressful at times but the rewards of such work can be significant. First time camp America participants at special ed camps could earn upwards of $150 more than mainstream camp counsellors.

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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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