Monday, 18 January 2016

Camp America - My Experience

My Twitter feed is currently full of excited posts retweeted by Camp America, of this years intake of staff.

From a young age when I saw all the photos of my aunties trip to do the Camp America programme, I knew it was something I wanted to do too.

Believing it was something that would never happen to me, I put off applying for far too long.

Finally in my final year of uni, when I realised it was time to enter the real world, I decided to ignore the real world for a bit longer and I applied.

Before Camp

In December 2013, I sent off my initial application. I was given an interview - and I selected a lady local to me in Southampton. You are able to pick your interviewer and they are pretty flexible with the interview times.
I went to the interviewers house for an interview that lasted about 30 minutes. My friend also had an interview but hers was in a Costa Coffee shop, so either is normal.
In the interview, we discussed what I wanted to do, I had picked 'Campower' and I didn't feel like a Counsellor role was for me. I didn't think I would work well with children 24/7. We discussed all the different roles that I could do, what I was like as a person, and how the process worked. I filled out some paper work and then was on my way. One my CRB check had been sent off, my application was able to go live.

This is the part where I was incredibly lucky. Within a day off my application being 'live', I received an email from the director of a camp. She wanted to arrange an Skype interview to discuss an office assistant role at her camp. We arranged it for 7pm UK time, which made the whole day slow and stressful.
I made sure I researched the camp thoroughly and thought about exactly what I wanted from my Camp Experience. Just after 7pm my Skype was calling, and it was a lot less stressful than I had thought. We spoke about what I was able to do, my previous experience - I had never worked in an office, but I had 6 years of customer service experience. We also discussed what a typical day in camp was like, and what the camp it self is like. At the end of the interview, she told me she would like to offer me a place - best moment ever!  I was also asked to go over early to help set up at 'Pre Camp'.

The next few months were full of excitement and stress. There was a lot of paperwork to fill out and I had to make a trip to London to get my visa. The camp created a Facebook page to get to know other people that were going to camp. I met a few people on there, however they weren't the people I ended up being closest to.

The Journey to Camp

When the day finally came, I headed to Heathrow with my family and it was very scary and emotional saying goodbye. There were a lot of people there wearing Camp America t-shirts, so after initially refusing to wear it, I went into the toilet and found it out in the bottom of my bag. Once I had it on, I felt I was part of their 'gang' and went over to make some friends. Unfortunately they were all from the same camp - which was not where I was going, so some of them weren't that bothered about being friendly. Once on the plane I was sat by myself anyway so I didn't really mind that I hadn't been included. When we got to Newark, I did have to stay in a hotel with everyone, but the girls I was in a room with seemed lovely, so we went to Target and then had an early night.  I had to disappear at 5am so we didn't become besties.
The next morning I was dropped at Port Authority (the huge bus station in New York). This was terrifying. The place is massive and I had no idea where to go. I had to ask so many people for help and the locals were not very friendly. Eventually I ended up on the correct bus and was on my way to Hancock, NY - the nearest town (more like a village) to camp. After a few long and boring hours on the bus, I finally arrived. I was worried I would miss my stop but the bus driver remembered that I was wanting to get off there so he shouted the location. A man from camp was there ready and waiting for me. At this point I was starving. He bought me my first McDonalds and explained it was the Pre-Camp groups day off. He took me to camp and showed me to my room.

Pre Camp

My room was above the staff room. There were two beds, a bedside stand and two wardrobes in there. I would eventually be sharing with another office girl, but for now I was the only one there for pre camp. It wasn't exactly luxury. There was graffiti everywhere with really negative comments about camp. The mattresses were about a quarter of the thickness of a normal mattress and the rooms were incredibly dusty. After dumping my stuff I headed to the town to meet everyone. I was surprised to discover I was one of the only girls there. There were two other girls, however they were kitchen staff so spent most of the time working. Most of the guys were from England, there were a couple Americans and a guy from South Africa. One of the girls from the kitchen was from New Zealand and ended up being one of my best friends at camp, and the rest were Mexican.
Pre Camp was brilliant, it was very laid back and everyone was very nice. I worked from 8am - 5pm each day which was easy in comparison to what it would become. I spent the days in the office helping preparations and answering the phones. I was left by myself a lot of the time, but I occasionally got to go to the post office. Driving in America took some getting used to. The first time I got in the (automatic) car, I went straight to put it in gear and take the handbrake off. But no. 
In the evenings we just hung out and the guys all played sports such as basketball and ultimate frisbee. During the two weeks two more girls came, one from England and one from Australia. These girls also became my best friends - there was a bond between the pre campers that stayed all through camp.
Camp Life

Things were a lot different when the rest of the staff and the campers turned up. Things became a lot stricter. We had a curfew of 12.30am. In the evenings there was a bus that took us to a local bar, but if any one came back drunk they were fired. Quite a few people got fired for lots of reasons. It was all very hush-hush though. You weren't allowed to talk about it.
There was quite a divide between the counsellors and the support staff. The counsellors were quite cliquey and unfortunately they would go off in their own cars/friends cars on days off, so it was hard to bond with them. With all the support staff being international, we didn't have cars, so we just had to go where ever the bus took us. Luckily the support staff all got on really well so it wasn't the end of the world. Don't get me wrong, I did make friends with some of the counsellors, but there was a lot I never spoke to.
We had one day off a week. It was always fun. We got to visit a different place most weeks, we went to places such as Philadelphia, Ithaca, Binghamton, and Scranton. We got to go bowling and to the cinema. The cinemas were amazing. One that we went to had massive reclining leather seats. It was hard not to fall asleep!

These days off were also a great opportunity to eat massive portions of food. Camp food was limited. You could only eat at meal times and the food was kosher - so no cheeseburgers! I also became obsessed with Diet Coke as it seemed like such a treat. We quite often went to all you can eat Chinese buffets, as it was unlimited food for about $4, and this included food such as pizza and chips - i know right?! 
Although we could buy snacks and drinks on our days off, there wasn't really much point as we didn't have access to fridges to put it in. We did sneak some sweets and snacks in (we weren't supposed to have any food- but no one checked) - SourPatch Kids became my life. 
The work days were very long but went very quickly. In the mornings we would sort the post - there was SO much. We had to check it all to make sure the parents weren't sending in contraband (sweets, toys, money etc.), anything we found was confiscated. In the day we would help out with any admin work, answer the phones, help the events department, file paper work, run the camp shop and help with the tuck shop. Some days I got to go on road trips. It was a little bit terrifying but I loved doing it. I would get given a map and told to drive an hour away to pick up stuff. Eventually I was a pro at American driving! On the second week I won an award for Best Support Staff of the week. I was so proud. I got a certificate and a pair of joggers, which I always wear around the house now. 
The weather wasn't great. We had some days that were boiling hot and me and my super pale skin preferred to stay indoors. But a lot of the time is was cold and rainy. Apparently its not normally like that. At one point we had to take dover underground for a hurricane warning. That was pretty scary!
There were some brilliant experiences there. 4th July Fireworks, Camp Olympics - they take it so seriously, camp shows, and closing ceremony. Everything was done to true American over-the-top style. 

My overall opinion would be that it was hard work. It's not as easy as people think it will be. The directors were strict (they made me cry a few times), the hours were long, when you did have chance to sleep it was pretty noisy, the money was rubbish and spending a lot of time with the same people with out a break can be hard. We had fall outs, and there were certainly people I strongly disliked. But for every con there is about 10 pros and I would definitely recommend it. It was an experience I am proud to say I have done. I met some amazing people and now have friends all over the world. It's hard to keep in touch now, but I know they will be friends for life, even if I don't speak to them for a few months at a time. I have been to places I would never just go on holiday. I have seen how Americans live in non tourist areas. And I got to go on a yellow school bus, which was obviously a life goal of mine. In fact one night, the bus we were on crashed into a rock, so I guess that enough life experience I have...!

Coming soon! 

What to Pack for Camp

After Camp Travelling

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