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Camp America - Make the Best of your Gap Year!
How to Get the Best Experience working at a Summer Camp, on the Camp America Experience...
Camp America is the opportunity to work in a Summer Camp usually anytime from May to September, in the USA. This page is all about MY personal experience on the Camp America programme.
I've known many people to go on the Camp America experience. Most of them had the time of their life, but there were also those who didn't have quite the experience they had hoped for.
I took part in Camp America, back in 2001 and to this day (some 12 years on), consider it one of the best experiences of my life! I had an amazing Camp America experience.
On this Camp America page, you will find my story - including ideas, hints and tips to make help you get the most out of your Camp America experience too...or if you're not sure about taking part in the Camp America experience, hopefully this page will help answer a few questions you may have about it. Don't forget to drop my a line if there's any questions or thoughts I can help you with :)
Camp America...and getting started!
So, you want a Summer you'll never forget? Maybe Camp America is the answer!
Back in 2001, it had been 2 years since I finished my A-levels and was starting the 2nd year of my 'year out'. I had no plans to go to university, it didn't feel right for me yet. I got a full time job whilst I pondered what life would have in store for me. Working was fine, but I still needed something more.
After looking through various books on taking a year out (see links below) - I stumbled across an article about the Camp America programme. I knew a couple of people who had done it before, and I found the idea appealing, and I got myself hooked on the idea. I spoke to a few people and found advice on the best way to go about getting the ball rolling.
The key things about Camp America, is you have to want to work around kids or teenagers, and want to work aboard. If you're not into any of those things, then Camp America might not be for you! Having said that, there are Camps for adults with disabilities you can can work out - and you can work out a Camp doing more manual type work, such as a Chef, Gardender, Maintenance - the list is endless! By this time, I had already done a lot of youth work with disadvantaged kids - so I decided that these were the types of kids that I wanted to work with again.
I then went to the Camp America website to find out more. Best to my knowledge, there are 2 main ways to get a job with Camp America. You can either fill out all the application forms and send them off - which will get you an interview at a local office with a CA (Camp America) representative - and then they will place you in a camp. OR you can go along to a convention or recruitment fair, and meet hundreds of different the Camp directors face to face, have an 'on the spot' interview (it really isn't as scary as that may sound). So, in some ways you can choose your own camp (...if they accept you, of course)...I LOVED that idea!
Gap Year or No Gap Year?
Are you taking a Gap Year?
More and more people are taking breaks between their studies, or before they start their journey on the career ladder.
Are you planning on taking a Gap Year? Or did you take one already?
Camp America looks awesome on your CV!
Life experiences, such as Camp America are seen by employers to be just as valuable as qualifications. If you're not ready for university, or quite ready to start your career...There are lots of things you can do...like Camp America!
What sort of Camp America camp do I want to work out?
What and where will I be, on Camp America?
I wanted to work as a General Counsellor - working directly with the children. There are other jobs with Camp America, such as maintenance or kitchen work, but I wasn't particularly interested in those. After researching, I found out that there are hundreds and hundreds and HUNDREDS of camps across America. What's more, which I didn't realise, is that there are specialist camps. So, if you are a dancer you can work in a camp that acts as a Summer Dance school. If you're a horse rider - you can go to a specialist Horse Riding camp. If you like Britney Spears, you can even work in her camp for the performing arts!!... You get the idea, basically, you can really specify and choose which camp you want to work out.
So, I decided that I wanted to work as a Drama teacher or General counsellor, but I also wanted to work at a camp for disadvantaged children. I toyed with the idea of working at a camp for disabled kids, but at the time, I didn't feel that I would be emotionally strong enough. So by this time, I had decided what I wanted to DO at camp and the sort of camp I wanted to be at. I only had left to decide about the location of the camp. I decided I wanted to work near New York City, so I could visit the Theatre district and get my fill of the bright lights and soak up the Broadway buzz.
Things to consider when going to the Camp America Recruitment Fair
If you're not making a general application, where someone places you into a camp, you DO have some choices and things to think about:
What do you want your job to be? Counsellor? Chef? Life Guard?
What type of Camp do you want to work out?
Where do you want your Camp to be?
Life at Camp America!
This video should give you an idea of the the sort of thing you could be getting up to over the summer...
My experience at the Camp America Recruitment Fair
I Want to Work With Camp America...
...take me to a convention (or any other way to find out more)
I went along to the convention, which at the time was held at Olympia in London, (I didn't want to submit a general application online, I didn't fancy the idea of putting the fate of my summer in the hands of an administrator at the Camp America offices). Conventions (or Recruitment fairs) are usually held all over the UK, the Camp America website should be able to help you out with all the date and times details you would need.
I turned up with my ammo: a CV, my prefilled-in Application forms (from the website), Passport (for ID) plus all the other stuff they tell you bring - such as references. I also took along a nifty presentation folder that I had made which included info on all the work I had done with children, proving why I would be perfect at my chosen camp!
When arriving at Olympia I was given a funky little goody bag, which amongst the usual pens, American sweets (om nom nom) and all the other things, had a floor plan of all the represented camps there that day. They were listed in different categories (such as their specialism, age groups, location) - GREAT! After a good perusal, I found out about lot of camps that:
a) worked directly with homeless children
b) wanted performing artists
c) were based in the New York area
At the Camp America Recruitment Fair, take your time!
Make sure you READ the floor plans, the literature, booklets they give you. Make an informed choice about the stalls you want to visit. You have the power to choose the summer of your dreams. Take your time!
I was able to scout around the various stalls and have a look at what I thought the camps were about, and perhaps more importantly, seeing what I thought the directors were like. I was able to do this without committing myself, just merely observing what was going on. After satisfying my curiousity that a camp looked good to me - I was able to have an on the spot interview and then get my application processed and leave the convention as an employee of a camp for the summer...hurrah!
At the time, I was quite the socialist, and wanted to support children that were less advantaged than I was. I spoke to many 'rich' camps that in my opinion had pretty awful attitudes (these were only the few I saw, that's not to say that all rich camps have awful attitudes, of course!). I spoke to one director who was happy to tell me all about the awards they had won, but when asking what the awards were for exactly, I was given with a drivvle of uming and ahhing which made me think that maybe financial or celebrity support isn't really the best. I was getting tired and frustrated with some of the it's-all-about-the-money-and-we-couldn't-care-less -about-the-kids impressions I was getting.
Then I found a little stall for a Camp that relied solely on donations and government funding. After speaking to the representative (the director couldn't make the convention) she drastically undersold the camp to me. It was a camp for homeless kids from New York City. I was told that some of the children could be the most volatile I had experienced and have backgrounds and issues beyond anything I will ever have to come across. She told me how the living accommodation was basic, that they had no electicity, no glass windows in the cabins - just mesh separating us from the wilderness, how they don't have flushing toilets, but latrines. How they rely on donations to operate...you get the idea. But their foundation was built on the mutual desire to look after these children and give them a positive experience that was far removed from the harsh city life that they knew... I was sold - this was the camp for me. A camp who had a heart that was clearly about looking after the children and not worrying about how many material things they can get from corporate, rich, fat cats. Hurrah - the little social activist I was at the time was in love with the camp!
After being accepted onto my camp's programme, forms exchanged and hand shaking was done - I joined the loooongest queue in the world to get my application processed by the main central on-site office. Done! My summer 2001 was set!
Time start planning for Camp America!
Make sure you take a good Rucksack to travel with, to your Camp America camp!
This Could Be Your View Every Morning
Don't forget to take a Torch! (...or a flashlight as they call it)
Don't forget you will be out in the woods! You will need a torch. If you're out and about when the kids are in bed, you will need to see where you're going! I couldn't have coped without my flashlight. My friend had one of those head torches - GENIUS idea - both hands free incase you trip over a rogue branch!!
My story continues...Get Ready Camp America, Here I Come!
Get Ready Camp America, Here I Come...
After my applications went through, I had a few months on my hands to get ready for the experience of a lifetime. After some admininstrative work of forms being passed between myself and the camp, time sped by. I had lots of group email communication from the camp - so found the perfect opportunity to get to know some of my potential 'roomies' with MSN/AOL chats - hasten to add, this was way before Facebook was around - by this time I was getting incredibly excited, anxious and nerves were creeping in for good measure.
FINALLY the day of my flight arrived. I was literally buzzing with nerves and excitement. After all the goodbyes with family and friends, I found myself sat in the departure lounge of Heathrow. There were so many people like me, huddled together, toting their Camp America tags on their hand luggage. It was a very bizarre experience. I wanted to meet loads of people but at the same was more concerned about finding people who would be at my camp...which was like finding a needle in a haystack!
Once I was on the plane - after much small talk of '"Hi, which camp are you going to?" and "What are doing at camp?" and "Are you nervous?" and "No, I'm not going to Britney-blonky-Spear's camp!", I befriended a fellow Camp American. It turned out, through the way Camp America had organised the itiniary for us, we were together for the next 24 hours too. The flight was great - the back of the plane was overloaded with Camp America would-be workers, ready for the Camp America summer, all sharing stories and getting hyper on the plane food and drink!
We flew into Newark airport, New York, and were ferried into a local Ramada hotel for the night. We had a 5'o'clock start (...urgh) I didn't get much sleep - I was in a room with 3 other guys and 2 double beds! Nothing like sharing your personal space, eh? 2 of the guys were Australian and the other, Polish. After finding out that none of them were at my camp, I tried to doze off. I was amongst multinational people and loving it. Utterly exhausted, I made it down to breakfast, then found my bus that was taking us to Port Authority in NYC in order to catch another bus, to take us off to New York State where my camp was.
This was the most exciting bit, as hour by hour, I 'collected' more and more people who were going to my camp. It was like we were all part of some weird american find-your-fellow-campers filtering system. It turned out that the polish guy who shared my room WAS going to my camp - and his accent, mixed with exhaustion made me misunderstand him completely!
No Turning Back Now...Getting to my Camp!
Getting Used to Camp Life
On the bus, the city drifted away and the wooded land of New York State crept in. We got dropped off at some deserted petrol station, ready for the pick up from camp. FINALLY I was there, at the camp that I had seen pictures of at that convention all those months ago. I met the faces of the screen-names I had gotten to know via AOL, and was shown around camp. My first impression was how on earth am I going to find my way round this place - each cabin looked like the next and each path and tree looked no different from each other...I thought I was going to be forever lost. We were there for a week and a half, before the kids arrived, so we all shared cabins in our 'tribes' so we could bond. The first day was spent getting to know each other, getting over jet lag and climatising to camp life.
I felt like someone had plucked me out of my comfort zone and thrust me into an alien environment full of dirt and bugs that I only thought existed in books and jungles. I half-heartedly unpacked some bits and looked through all my photos, good luck cards and "we'll miss you" presents that I was given...I was homesick already. I went to bed planning what I was going to say to the director to get me back on the first flight home.
After a sleepful night, I awoke full of energy and determination that I was going to stick this through and fully embraced camp life. As the week went on, I grew to love it - ashamedly, I even grew a softspot for our grim latrines and showers...it was sort of fun showering with a new bug each day - like a zoological lesson for free!
Setting up camp was so much fun. We were split into 3 tribes, that the kids would join. One was all male, one all female, one mixed. I was in the mixed tribe. Each tribe was given a part of camp to prepare, so we had to Project Manage ourselves to get everything sorted. Camp was like another world - we all gave each other random nicknames, shared jokes and I just knew I had made the right choice in choosing my own camp. I felt so right. We were from all over the world and amazingly, everyone clicked with each other...obviously there were a few issues here and there, but essentially we were a team singing from the same hymn sheet.
We were further split into sub groups who had to prepare evening activities for the kids - and had to practice our programmes of entertainment on each other, a rehearsal if you like, for when the kids arrived. We spent our evenings playing random games all of which involved some degree of humiliation - such as 'Lip Sync Karoake' - in full costume to a song, not of your choosing (ours was 'Like a Virgin' in the style of a Ballet! Lovely!) Our last fews days of freedom were celebrated with swimming in the camp's lake (my picture is on this page), trips to a local beach, shopping at the mall and generally just chilling out. By this time, we had been divided into our cabin groups. Each cabin had to have 2 counsellors and space for 5 kids. Our cabin was ready to go - after our week of training - learning procedures and all the things you would expect to be taught if you were working with young children.
Treasure your Memories from Camp America
Take a Journal!!
You will want to look back at your Camp America adventure in years to come - so be sure to keep some sort of Journal. I made one when I was out there and often look back with fond memories!
But this is the 21st Century - make a blog, start a website to keep all your photos on for friends and family to visit...y'know something I little bit more personal than Facebook, twitter or Instragram...
- Make a blog with Wordpress.com
Great blog platform. I use this myself. Recommend it.
I also use Blogger. Personally, I prefer Wordpress, but would still recommend Blogger too.
- Make a quick Website with Weebly.com
I use Weebly too. It's simple, intuitive and let's you get a website up and running in no time! Recommended!
Of course, you could always take a good old fashioned journey, to write in by hand...
Capture all your Memories forever, at Camp America
You will definitely want to take a good camera to Camp America!
The Kids have arrived to Camp America!
Here Come the Kids...
AT LAST, the reason I was at the camp at all - the kids arrived...oh-my-gosh...NOTHING had prepared me for this. They were driven in on massive yellow, school buses from the city - and they were bouncing off the bus walls! We herded them into our Great Hall (it was called 'great' but was basically a huge wooden marquee) gave them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (which are surprisingly delish) and we all sat ready for them to be given their cabin groups...rather Harry-Potter-sorting-hat-esque! I sat looking round at the kids thinking 'please please don't give me the one ripping the hair out of the counsellor over there' and 'please not the one who is kicking and spitting at everyone'. These kids were wild. Understandably so, thankfully, I will never have to go through a fraction of the stuff some of these kids had been through at their tiny age of 7!
Our camp worked differently to many others. Usually at a camp, you have the same kids for the whole summer, but in order to get as many kids from NYC to our camp as possible, we had 4, 9 day sessions with kids from different boroughs and our first session kids lived up to the Bronx stereotype! Urban, street kids, ghetto, mildly intimating! My co-counsellor and I headed to our cabin (named after one of the Native American tribes) with our 4 new residents. I fell in love with them instantly - I was determined that I would look after these kids as best I could and make sure they knew that they could feel safe and happy in their temporary summer home.
The weeks went by. After some settling in and daily ups and downs of the children missing their mums, wetting the beds, crying, kicking, fighting, spitting, we got into the full routine of camp life. Camp was simply wonderful. I got to experience all sorts of things that I never would have done sitting back home in England. We had cook outs and camp fires, fires with marshmellows on spindly twigs (exactly how they do in the films) - discovered the wonder of smores (chocolate and marshmellow melted in between two crackers...mmmm). We went on hikes and slept on rocks under the stars in bear inhabitated woodland (!!) I saw so many animals that you would never see over here (unless I was in a zoo), chipmunks, various snakes, weird and wonderful bugs, racoons, not forgetting the bears! (Ok, I didn't see a bear, but the park rangers warned us to be on the look out in case). I even got to experience the wonder of lymes disease...from a tick... nice (by the way, you can get ticks at camp - joyous!).
Our staff photo at Camp America
Take some Music to Camp America
I thoroughly recommend taking your favourite tunes with you to Camp America!
If there's one thing I can't recommend enough, it's take an iPod player of some kind. When you've had a tough day, there's nothing better than finding your own space and listening to some of your favourite songs...best to take over a cheaper one , just incase it gets damaged in the wilderness!
How Camp America looked after me, when I had a family bereavement back home.
How Camp America Coped With a Family Tragedy Back Home...
About half way through my time there, I found out that my Nan was ill and passed away. Thanks to Camp America, I was put on a flight home the same day. My camp and Camp America were nothing but supportive. I got the news in the morning, then by late afternoon I was back in JFKs departure lounge ready to get a flight home. My friends at camp were wonderfully supportive also, everyone came to say goodbye to me as I got in the car to leave. I felt so touched that these people who I had known only for about 6 weeks, really cared about me. The whole time they had turned into a kind of extended family, but I never realised until that moment. After the funeral, I decided that I wanted to go back - it felt as if a part of me was still at camp and I felt an overwhelming urgency to complete my experience over there. Camp America arranged my flight back a week later, and I was at camp again.
With Camp America you pay fees (don't worry, they don't take too much money from you) it was these fees that helped me, particularly the insurance policy they covered me with. Being part of the Camp America programme meant that I didn't have to pay for a single extra flight. It was whilst I was back home that I found out I had caught lyme's disease from that bloomin' tick! The chances of getting it are about 1-1000! Basically, it's not very nice, it's a poisoning of the blood and if you don't catch it in time, it can kill you. Brilliant! Not! The doctors in the UK had to research it before they could diagnose, as we seldom have it in this country - typical! Eventually medication was found, but I was not put off one bit about going back.
When the summer was over, I felt desperately sad. Our last night was spent celebrating with a huge barbeque, with speeches, presentations and all the other sentimentally heart wrenching I-can't-believe-that-it's-all-over-tomorrow.
Ok, now comes the kinda bad bit... Trying to get home again, at the end of the adventure...Somehow in the chaos of Camp America arranging my flights back to England, then returning to America, the person who booked all those unexpected flights for me, forgot to tell the department that arrange all flights to England for the end of summer, that I was back in America! My flight home at the end of summer was automatically cancelled somehow when I flew back home half way through. It wasn't as disastrous as it could have been, as I was still able to get on the flight due to people not turning up.
The ridiculous thing was that Camp America had employed a very young and inexperienced person to be our representative at JFK airport, who's customer service skills were awful - as he only knew how to give people allocation who were on his list, and obviously, I wasn't on his list! Incredibly annoying and frustrating! So, if for whatever reason you have to go home, then return back to Camp - make sure everyone at Camp America HQ know they need to arrange your flight back home again!!
Camp America - My experience, in conclusion!
Camp America in Conclusion...
There are cheaper ways to experience life at camp. Some of my camp mates that were there, went through organisations such as Bunac and other such company's, who don't have as many agency fees - thus those people were paid more. However, if I wasn't with Camp America, I would have had to arrange all my own flights to get home, and feeling the way I was - that would have been the last thing I felt up to doing. So I felt very lucky to be with them!
All in all, I would recommend Camp America to anyone and everyone, I would even make it the law for all people to try, I am that passionate about it. But having said that, I know many who have had bad experiences at camp - typically though, the bad experiences seemed to come from those who were placed at a camp. Maybe they were "sold" on a camp, as much as you can be by visiting the convention or recruitment fair. So, essentially it can be gamble - but a lot of it is about your attitude and whether or not you choose to fully embrace camp life.
© MarcoG 2014
I want to hear about YOUR Camp America Experiences...
I Want to Hear From You...
So...have you been to camp? Did you have a good time? Would you do it again? Did you have the summer of a lifetime?...
Did you have a good experience, working at a summer camp?
If Camp America isn't for you...
If Camp America isn't for you...
...There are always other ways you can spend your summer. Have a look at some of these books for ideas and inspiration of how to spend your summer.