During my freshman year of college, I applied to work at a sleepaway camp in Maine somewhat impulsively. I went home to Virginia for winter break, and while I enjoyed getting to visit my family and friends, I found myself feeling bored toward the end of the two weeks. I quickly realized that I needed to find something to fill my time for the upcoming summer so I didn’t end up just sitting around and watching TV for two and a half months.
Then, I remembered: A friend of mine had told me about a camp that she’d worked at for a few years. On a whim, I decided to submit an application. I was hired. While excited for the new adventure, I never could have guessed how life-changing my “impulsive” decision would be. At the beginning of camp, the directors told all of the staff that camp would be the hardest job we would ever love, and they were right.
It’s difficult to put into words the experiences you have working at a summer camp. Sure, it involves hair-braiding, card games, campfires and an abundance of songs about moose that you can never quite get out of your head, but it’s also so much more. Camp is a place where campers and counselors alike can be 100 percent themselves.
In many ways, camp is its own world. It’s a world where people texting is replaced with people talking face-to-face. High-fives and hugs are commonplace, and you can feel a sense of joy in the air because every person is so happy to be where they are. Many campers use the term “10 for two” – which means that they get through 10 months out of the year just to experience two months at camp. I can see how this saying might seem crazy to people who’ve never experienced the joys of this experience firsthand, but those of us who have wholeheartedly understand how special that short period of time is.
While the final week of camp is one full of laughs, fun and excitement to return home to family and friends, it also carries a hint of sadness, as everyone realizes that the trouble with summer is that it has to come to an end.
It was departure day of my first summer as a counselor when I began to recognize the impact my time there had on me. Saying goodbye to campers and staff who had turned into family was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do. Even as I returned to camp for a second and then third summer, the goodbyes never got easier. The classic Winnie the Pooh quote, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard,” comes to mind.
Working at camp has given me invaluable leadership, communication and problem-solving skills – but it’s also made me a better human being. It’s given me some of my best friends and connections throughout the U.S. and the world. But I think the most incredible thing that camp has given me, year after year, is the opportunity to make a difference each day. Even the smallest moments at camp can have a profound impact on both the children and the staff.
As the years have gone on, camp feels less like a job and more like a part of my life. I can’t imagine where I’d be today had I not made the fateful decision to apply for what I thought would be a one-time summer job.
If you’ve ever considered working at any kind of camp for a summer, do it. The experiences you have and the connections you make will change your life for the better if you let them – I promise.