My first trip to the United States was in June 2014. Well, actually, it was back in 1996 when my grandparents took me to Florida but of course, I can’t remember that. No, in June 2014, I took the bold decision to become a camp counselor in the US. Now I know that you’ve all probably heard amazing things about this organisation but I’m going to paint you a different kind of picture. It is not all s’mores and cute kids. It’s early starts, long days, dehydration, the same menu each week, cold and dirty showers, conniving coworkers, bratty children, homesickness and money-orientated bosses. But hey, don’t get me wrong: I knew it would be hard-work – I mean, I’m a teacher for goodness sake, I’m not work shy, but I was seriously unprepared for the reality that is summer camp. Yes, the organisation buys your flight out there, but they make you have as many layovers as possible so you arrive jet-lagged and disoriented and have to get up in 7 hours’ time to start your counselor training. Yes, you get to meet so many different people, but seriously, how many of these people are you actually going to like? It’s all about team-work and “being creative” and if you have had enough of playing basketball or musical statues and giving each other silly nicknames that rhyme with your name after 3 hours, then tough. It doesn’t stop. We had a full week of this so-called “training” and the only parts I actually enjoyed were when we spoke to the ranger about forest fires and bears. I know, you’re probably thinking, why the hell did you go? I’m a teacher, first and foremost, and I wanted to gain some more experience with children before I went into teacher training. I also wanted to see America and this seemed a good way to do both. I went into it for the right reasons (I mean, it costs a fortune once you pay the organisation and embassy fees) but even once the kids arrived, I was already exhausted and fed-up pretending to enjoy acting like a 12 year old. I did enjoy working with the children and looking after them but I just couldn’t bring myself to even pretend I liked my coworkers. So each cabin had 8 kids and two counselors were assigned to each cabin. My partner for the first two-week session was one of those demanding, know-it-all types, who instantly took charge despite being only 18 and having literally zero experience with children. Spending 9 weeks trapped in an artificial environment with the same 80 people can quite honestly drive you crazy. It reminded me of being back in high school dealing with the rumours, the segregated friend groups and the bitchiness. I split the female counselors into two simple categories: the popular ones (who, of course, were the bosses’ favourites and basically lead the camp) and the unpopular ones (who were there because they loved the outdoors and would get up at 5am to go running or for a swim in the freezing lake). The male counselors were either sexually frustrated or seriously into their parkour. In fact, the boys once circulated a list of the girls ranked in order of “hotness”. It was all so juvenile and I usually spent my free-time (such as it was) by the lake reading or learning Spanish from the Mexican kitchen staff.
After a couple of weeks, I was overtaken by severe loneliness and homesickness. I had never before been homesick on my travels – I mean, I was always only ever a 2 hour plane journey away – but that summer in the mountains was one of the longest of my life. I made few friends there (the only people I liked talking to were the Mexicans) and I dreaded waking up each morning. It just really was not for me. I had spoken to the head counselor but she offered little advice, clearly biased that this was the best job in the world. However, I soon snapped.
My boss offered me a new job a few weeks into camp: would I be the new nanny for the camp director’s sons? I jumped at the chance to change roles: after all, how hard could it be? Whilst I did have more freetime – all I had to do was follow the boys around camp and make sure nothing happened to them – and I got to spend time in their wonderful cabin (where I was allowed to help myself to anything in the kitchen and I got to use their bathroom), the boys were a nightmare. They were selfish, rude and knew their Daddy owned the place. Truth be told, I was bored. I couldn’t have cared less about my job and the only thing that got me through those long hot days was the thought of flying home. Things all came to a head when their father got a little too personal with me and I booked a flight home that very same day for the next morning. I was technically not allowed to leave without the organisation’s permission, but I was beyond caring by that point and I was dropped off at the airport by one of the camp drivers and I never looked back.
Naturally, I do not recommend this experience, but that’s because I’m speaking from the point of view of someone who prefers her own company, who doesn’t like working 15 hours a day with one day off per week, who doesn’t enjoy being around people 24/7 and who prefers nice, hot showers in a clean bathroom where the toilets flush and bats aren’t lurking in the corners. However, if you are an outdoor person and are resilient enough then I commend you. To those who survived summer camp without breaking down like I did, you are awesome.