First things first, America is a beautiful place. Pennsylvania is a countryside paradise with rolling fields and trees for miles around, Chestnut Lake Camp fitted right in with the scenery. The weather was also a wonderful thing for a British person like me who only sees the sun in full throttle about two times a year.
The warmth and perfect all-day sunshine was just the right type of weather that summer camps need, I now realise why they are so popular over there and not here in the UK.
The first week was pretty amazing, all the staff were grouped together and we took part in fun team building activities where I made some really great friends. Every day from about the 5th day in, we got up at 7:30am to practice for when the kids got there, it was amazing and a bit intense on how much my camp were focused on the kids and their experience. By the time we had finished our training, I had to say I was nervous for when the kids came along because of the expectations that were upon us.
However I noticed that the American staff were always really excited for the kids arrival, whereas the British people were slightly more reserved.The children finally got to camp in their hundreds on June 25th and it was just so busy. I still had quite a bit of culture shock and seeing all these kids around me shocked me even more.
When I first met all my girls, they all looked so sweet and innocent and were slightly sad but excited to leave their parents and come to camp. Me and my two other colleagues, Julie and Claudia, had decorated the bunk with a fashion theme which we talked to the girls about to take their minds off their long journey.
They were all so different, I remember finding it hard to approach them because half of them knew exactly what to do because they had been before and half of them were upset and lost. I really did get scared that I had made the wrong choice and was way in over my head but something inside was telling me just to keep going. Over the next few weeks, things did get better.
All of the staff started to make connections with the kids and we all started to feel more comfortable. I started my job and I found it rather disappointing because of the lack of professionalism involved. There weren’t enough cameras, there weren’t any tapes… the list just went on and it took me a long time to get used to this unorganised, last minute way of working.
However, I was better at my job than I thought I would be, I assisted the kids and I gave them ideas which sprang to mind immediately. I was even complimented by one of the kids on being good at my job which I must say, did touch my heart because this particular girl was a real sweetheart.
They told all the staff that this kind of thing would happen to us, where we started to become like proud parents and what’s more… we actually did! The kids put on plays and talent shows and I sat there with the biggest smile on my face and what’s more, I even made strong connections with my girls in the bunk.
I did not expect to feel such a heart warming feeling after only being at camp for a short few weeks but I will tell anyone who is thinking of trying out camp, it is true and it does happen if you stay and try with the kids you look out for. The best feeling is when you’re walking somewhere with your group and one of the kids you look after comes up and takes your hand. You see, at the beginning, I would have felt rather uncomfortable with that but towards the middle/end of camp, it made me smile and made my hard work worth it.
But not all my experiences were good, I did have days where I cried and wanted to go home and I certainly did find it hard to fit in because I am quiet in strange situations. As a camp staff member, you will always have bad kids that really touch a nerve sometimes and one of the hardest things is learning to just let anger and frustration go. At Chestnut Lake, you couldn’t just walk down a path and let out a huge scream and then come back again, you were never alone when at camp.
Even in the staff areas, there was someone there and even in your bunk during activities, people could hear you if you were on the phone. To some people, that sounds like their idea of hell and when you’re in a bad mood, it really is! But… you can cope without your phone and without much privacy when forced to, it certainly pushed my boundaries and I love to share!
Being a constant role model and always trying to find the energy to join in is hard but I am glad I did it and sometimes, it takes places like camp to really open your views and mind up to new experiences. The daily routine was early and in bed by 1am at the latest (if you weren’t on duty), lunch at 12pm and dinner at 6pm.
It was like being on auto-pilot at some points because the days did start to merge into one and that made it very hard to imagine reality outside of camp! The friendships I made became close so very quickly because the time you spend together is so intense, I found it to be a good thing, the fastest way I’ve ever made friends!
Nearing the end of camp, despite days off, I started to feel trapped and I needed to get out! Me and my new friends were itching to go on adventures together and not act like role model all the time. But let me tell you, when that day comes and all the kids are leaving… you can be made of stone and you still will cry!
Six weeks of bonding with people and the kids melt you like butter when it comes to saying goodbye and knowing you probably will not see them again. It’s horrible! I did not think I would cry but I did…rather a lot! I finally got on my bus to leave for New York and I felt sad to leave the remainder of my girls standing there crying their little eyes out. Something pulled inside me to come back next year despite saying all along that I would NEVER come back.
After camp, I spent four days in New York and I have to say, it was an amazing experience and I loved it! I feel very lucky to have the friends I made at camp, they certainly made me smile when I felt at my lowest! My decision to not go back to CLC next summer is based around the fact that it was just a bit too intense for me, the good did out run the bad but I know in my heart that I did not truly fit in there. I will always cherish my memories with my girls and staff, they are amazing people and I do not regret putting myself up for camp at all.
I think I will try camp again in a few years and I shall aspire to try a different job such as a lifeguard, something I’ve always been interested in learning and training for. Overall my experience was successful one and I could not be happier I did it and got through it.
I’ve changed for the better. CLC 2012, here’s to you.