Lessons I Learned Working at Summer Camp
As the summer of 2012 approached I found myself with zero plans. The plan to do a study abroad program for the summer fell through hard, the job I had left to do said study abroad program didn’t need me anymore, and all other summer jobs were taken by that point. Well, all except one. Through a weird series of acquaintances, canceled plans, and being in the right place at the right time, I found myself with a full time position as a camp photographer.
That summer my life was dedicated to photographing kids having fun at summer camp. Those 10 weeks were the most physically and mentally exhausting weeks of my life and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Below are the lessons I learned working at summer camp.
THE MEANING OF HARDWORK
I will start this section off by saying I had the easiest job at camp. My title of “Media Coordinator” was just fancy way to say camp photographer. But despite having the easiest job at camp and having an office with a/c, those 10 weeks were the hardest I ever worked.
At camp you live where you work and separating the two is pretty much impossible. My day started around 6:30. Well, it was supposed to start at 6:30. So, my day usually started around 7/7:30 and didn’t end until 10:30pm most days. Did I spend the entire 15 hours working? Yes. Well, okay, if I’m being completely honest, no. I did sneak off to the health center which had air conditioning at least once a day. I would definitely sneak off to my room for a post lunch nap, and I would browse Facebook and play Fruit Ninja at night when as I waited for the photos from the day to completely upload. But other than that, yes, I worked those 15 hours. But, again, I had the easiest job at the camp. I wasn’t in charge of a group of children, I didn’t have to constantly worry about their wellbeing or enriching their lives with great memories that would make a great movie montage. Yes, I had the easiest job at the camp, and though I learned what hardwork was through personal experience, I mostly learned what hardwork was from watching everyone around me. The counselors, the coordinators, the program managers, the cooks, the maintenance crew, everyone. Camp workers work hard all day and a lot of the times all night, and rarely complain. A camp worker is the epitome of a hardworker.
IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNITY
What made those long and exhausting days bearable? The people. Some of it is forced, in the beginning anyway. You realize that these people are all you have for the next 10 weeks. But with that realization comes an openness. You become more open to people, to relationships, to jokes. You become more understanding of people, of their attitude, of their frustrations, and they become more understanding of yours. Arguments and tension exist, but far and few between. Community is what gets us all through the 10 weeks, it gets us through the difficult kid(s), the long hours, and mediocre pay. For me, in the end, the community that I became a part was what the entire summer was all about.
HOW TO BE SELFLESS (also, how to clean up vomit that’s not yours)
So it maybe be new news to some of you, but camps are generally full of a bunch of kids. Kids who rely on their adult counselors for pretty much everything. As an adult in charge of minors it was your job to put them first. And it was hard. Well, for me it was. “Hey Miss Sam, there’s a swarm of bees attacking us do you think you could come out of your air conditioned office and help us?” “Well, I guess my daily ice cream sandwich can wait”. See? Putting their needs first. Okay, all joking aside, there’s no room at camp to be selfish. You’re looking after the lives of children. You’re the only person they can go to for help, the only person who is available to comfort them when they’re bullied or overcome with homesickness. Also, did I mention the days were long and pay mediocre? Camp workers are some of the most selfless people around. More so than I was I can tell you that. But again, I learned from observing.
Oh, why the “how to clean up vomit that’s not yours” part? Because I was on bus duty and the roads back into town are extremely windy and there’s always a bbq right before the bus left and kids do not understand the concept of portion control. I only had to deal with kid vomit once the entire time, thank goodness. This is mostly due to the fact that the other times a kid would vomit I would just tell my bus duty partner “I can’t deal with this right now” and walk off the buss.
I was never voted counselor of the week.
NOT GIVING UP
I did not take to camp life right away. Big surprise for those who know me, I’m sure. The camp I worked at was actually two camps, about half a mile a part from one another (at most). Different camps, same organization, same camp photographer. I remember during week 3 of camp, hiking down from Camp B back to Camp A and thinking “If I fell down this trail and broke my arm I could go home and I wouldn’t have to work here anymore”. I was in a really bad place at the time. I was exhausted, I missed the comforts of home, and hardwork just wasn’t part of my vocabulary back then. But as much as I wanted to “accidentally” slip and fall at that moment, I didn’t. I sucked it up and went about my day with the thought “it’s going to get better. Oh God, please let it get better.” And guess what? It did.
MEANING OF FRIENDSHIP
I’m good at making acquaintances. Conversing and relating to people is something I find easy and pretty enjoyable. Creating meaningful friendship is a different story. Maybe it’s a result of being a military kid and moving every three years, maybe it’s because of my anxiety, maybe I’m bad at anything that requires effort. Whatever the reason, creating meaningful friendships, understanding true friendship, has never come easy to me. At camp, creating these strong relationships were inevitable because these people became my family. What else do you call people who you share your meals with, who you share your troubles and triumphs with, who you create inside jokes with? I created some of the most meaningful relationships during that summer with some of the most amazing people in the world.
HOW TO BUILD A FIRE
This isn’t some sort of metaphor or anything, learning to build a fire is one of the biggest lessons I learned at camp. So, if you need someone to build you a good camp fire just holler at me.
Proof of me building a fire. I did have direct supervision. Actually, now that I think about it I’m pretty sure Courtney built the entire thing herself.
APPRECIATION OF NATURE
Nature and I don’t necessarily hate each other, but we’re not exactly best friends. I guess the best way to put it is we appreciate eachother’s work, but we don’t really talk. During my time at camp I came to really really appreciate nature’s work. The view outside my bedroom window was amazing. Every morning I was in awe of the beauty, and every night I was dumfounded by the serenity.
Also, breathing fresh air and listening to the sound of birds was pretty nice too. I think what I miss the most is seeing the stars so clearly at night. Shooting stars were something I witnessed at least once a night, walking by moonlight is something I did every night on my way back to my cabin, wild turkey calls became my alarm clock most mornings. Did I say wild turkeys? Yes, wild turkeys are definitely a thing in the mountains of California.
SAYING GOOD BYE
Like all good things, camp had to come to an end. Sure there’s camp every year, but it’ll never the be exactly the same. These people who I spent almost every waking moment with for 10 weeks, these people who became my family, were suddenly not going be a part of my life. We were all going back to the “real world”, back to our family and friends and regular life. There were promises to keep in touch, to call/text all the time, to visit one another. A lot of those promises were kept, a lot weren’t. I came to have a better understanding of seasons of life, and how to move from one season to the next with grace. I learned to be thankful of the season I was just in and look forward with excitement to the season in front of me.
Remember at the end of Titanic when Rose dies (spoiler alert!) and we see her walk(float?) through the Titanic and pass by all the people and walk up the stairs where she’s finally reunited with Jack? Those ten weeks are so meaningful to me, are so much a part of who I am today, I wonder if when I die I’ll walk/float through camp, passing by people from my life and walk a set of stairs to where a California burrito waits for me.