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.
(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!
- 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.
(Dinosaurs in disguise)
- 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!
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 🙂