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3 Reasons You Really Don't Want to Work at a Summer Camp
I have attended several summer camps in my life for a variety of interesting and hilariously outlandish reasons, including, but not limited to, Boy Scout camps, Christian church camps, Mormon church camp, and even a Girl Scout camp (More on that last one later, 'cause I'm a guy. You should probably know that). At the time, I thought everything was going swimmingly at camp. And I probably should've used that as a pun somewhere involving a lake and tipping a counselor out of a canoe. But then I realized, as I grew older and wiser at the ripe old age of 20, while I was telling my grandkids the stories of the great Camp Owmyakneea, that summer camp sucks. And it sucks a lot. It sucks to be a camper, but more importantly, it sucks to work there. And this is where the Girl Scout camp comes in...
1: Campers are the Devil
I worked at a Girl Scout camp (whom shall remain nameless, lest I hurt her feelings. You know who you are, you demon...) when I was 16 years old. I was one of the people that prepared massive amounts of food for hundreds of preteen girls who were spending a week "roughing it." By roughing it, I mean spending 7 days in a highly controlled, highly structured environment in which their only choice was what they got to do for 30 minutes of free time everyday with 199 other preteen girls, and counselors that were so energetic, it bordered on the creepy. Like... well, there's really no other way to describe it other than creepy camp counselor energetic. I guess you could say like the Energizer bunny on crack, but that's just unfair to the Energizer bunny.
Anyway, I caught a lot of jokes from friends and family while I was working there that it was going to be a dream job. I'm 16, one of the few guys in the entire facility with hundreds of girls clammoring for my attention, and all I have to do is smile, crack a few jokes, and cook and clean. Not so bad, right?
Wrong. So much wrong.
Let's get things straight. I was 16, and these girls were between the ages of 8 and 14. Of course I wasn't attracted to 8 year olds. I would be lying if I said that I wasn't attracted to some of the 14 year olds, but since I was working, I reminded myself of ethics and kept my head down and my hands on a mop handle. But that didn't stop them. I was hit on constantly. I suppose I brought it upon myself, knowing before hand that this was an all girls camp that I was going to be working at, but what I didn't account for was that some of these girls had been deprived of a human male roughly their age for almost three months.
Which brings me to my first point: Campers are the devil.
While camping, many adolescents adopt an attitude of "It's just camp. It doesn't mean anything." Well, that is a highly false statement. Yes, it's camp. People are meant to go there and have a good time. However, to have a camp, you have to have a staff that is willing to work with crazy hormonal preteens/teens. Being part of the staff meant something to me. It meant that this was my first job, and I was determined to do really well working there. It meant money in my pocket for dealing with simple chores like mopping, sweeping, and food prep. However, as a 16 year old boy, I was not prepared for dealing with my own issues, a job, and on top of that, dealing with boy-crazy-counselor-in-training-here's-my-phone-number-cookoo-brained girls for 30 hours a week! It was literally a fresh hell for me. I was hit on, punched ('cause girls are weird at that age), had stuff stolen from me, kool-aid intentionally poured over my head, yelled at by more than twelve different counselors for countless violations of "camp spirit," and docked pay on occasion for reasons I still have yet to fathom.
And it wasn't just being employed by a summer camp that gives me insight on this. I was a camper once too, and I can tell you, campers are the freakin' devil. I broke rules, I went days without showering, I got homesick and cried on peoples shoulders, I even once helped start a food fight. You might say that I was the exception in a world where all campers are perfect angels, but there was always someone right beside me, sneering at whoever was trying to take away our good time.
Which brings me to my first tid-bit of advice: When applying for a job at a summer camp, keep in mind the kinds of campers that will be staying there. Will you be able to get along with them? Are they going to be constantly trying to get in your pants? Is the eight bucks an hour really worth having to deal with cherry kool-aid dripping from your body in 90 degree weather?
2: Camp Names
A lot of camps have a fun little game of coming up with camp names. Pretty easy concept to grasp; the staff of the camp doesn't go by their real names because that's boring and nothing at camp is ever boring. Sometimes even the campers get camp names. My camp name was always Yoshi. And it started at that Girl Scout camp. There was already a Mario and a Luigi working in the kitchen, so I said "Well, if I can't be Captain Von Awesomeheimer, just call me Yoshi!"
Only after my contract with the camp ended did I realize how grateful I was that I never gave my real name to any of those girls camping there. They were, as I've said previously, crazy. Why would I want something like that to follow me into my personal life by finding me on facebook or finding out my home address?
However, camp names also serve another ancillary function I never thought of before I left camp. It gave the campers (and my employers, now that I think about it) a way to dehumanize me. I was no longer Aaron. I was Yoshi, that kid that mopped up puke and mud. And not one of those girls gave a second thought when they tracked mud across the 1,200 square foot floor that I had just mopped and would have to mop again tomorrow. And don't even get me started on what they left in the bathrooms...
Alright, more advice: When applying for a position at a summer camp, remember the kind of labor you will be doing. It's either going to be menial, mundane, repetitive cleaning and cooking, or it's going to be dealing with the issues that these (usually) younger people have, while trying to remain a constantly happy smiling stranger who becomes everyone's best friend and is going to be ingrained into someone's memory for at least the next three years.
3: It'll Mess With Your Head
A lot of summer camps are focused around learning something, or being exposed to new things. I cite my summers among different religious camps and Boy Scout camps for this one. Every camp was about growing and becoming stronger within a week. When you think about it, that's really not enough time to make any sort of lasting change at all. In fact, you'll be lucky if someone leaves there with a glimmer of hope to better themselves in some way. But it's different for employees of a summer camp.
You don't spend a whole week in a summer camp then go home to your family and friends. It's your job. You go back there, day, after day, after day for months. And, if you didn't notice, the campers change constantly. Just after you learn one person's name, they're gone. And whatever divine entity you believe in help you if you're using camp names. But not only that, you are basically stuck in an indoctrination camp for 3 months, repeating the same clips and phrases you've been instructed to tell campers, and in a way, you might start to change yourself.
It was no different for me while I worked at the Girl Scout camp. Their theme was something dumb. Something about sunshine and rainbows and finding fun in everything. So that's what happened. I found fun in everything. Not a bad thing, right.
Once again, wrong. So much wrong.
I found fun in everything.
"Aaron, go clean the dead cat off the road."
"Gee willikers! Sounds swell! Do I really get to use the snow shovel in the middle of July? And can I make a hat out of the cat?"
I actually thought that that was a good idea to say that at the time. Because apparently I'm a nine year old from the 1950s. But it wasn't. My boss took it as sarcasm, then docked my pay. And a passing camper overheard the comment, and cried to a counselor about my obvious insanity and insensitivity. For which, I was yelled at. And further docked pay.
So, final advice: When taking a job at a summer camp, remember to keep your mind open, but also do not lose yourself in camp mentality. They want you to be a smiling reminder of all that is good and right with the world. Not a deranged psychopath that enjoys scraping roadkill off the gravel.
But don't let me discourage you from seeking out employment at a camp. They are excellent positions for first jobs. As long as you don't mind dealing with people who are just slightly more off their rockers than you are.