How Summer Camp Made Me a Better Person

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     Have you ever had that moment when you realized your childhood was over? Maybe it was when you said “goodbye” to your parents after they dropped you off at college, or when you did your own taxes for the first time, or when you realized that Disney hid slightly scandalous jokes in their movies that you did not pick up on when you were younger. Though I myself have been through all of these little milestones before in my young adult life, my realization that my childhood was over did not fully come until this past month when I decided to make one of the toughest decisions I have ever been faced with. This summer, I will not be going back to my summer camp.

     If you did not grow up going to a sleepaway camp then this probably will not resonate with you as much as it will for someone who did. Kids who went to summer camp are fortunate enough to have been exposed to some of the most important experiences that just are not possible to explain to others.  For us lucky kids whose parents decided to pawn us off on someone else for a couple of weeks during the summer, we would come back each and every time slightly more tan, with dirt covered clothes and mosquito bite covered legs, having experienced some of life’s most important lessons.

     Before I can explain why camps have such a profound impact on any camper who attends, I first need to explain how my camp experience changed me, for the better.

     Camp taught me independence. My first few years at my summer camp I was incredibly homesick; the kind of homesick where I would fall asleep in my bunk crying because I missed my mom so badly and would beg my counselors to call her. For the record, I would like to apologize to any counselor I had during my homesick phase, I cried a lot. I cannot tell you what changed in me exactly, but one day I realized that moms do not have the magic power to fix everything; a lot of the time only you have the power to fix your own problems. Camp gave me a chance to get out of my comfort zone and learn how to take care of myself. Ironically, years later I became the camp counselor that had to comfort the homesick kids who begged me to call their parents which caused me to experience something even more important than independence. Camp taught me how to take care of others.

     Camp made me tolerant. Living with random people from various walks of life and being able to interact with them in a neutral setting opened my eyes to human nature at its core.  At camp, it does not matter who you are or where you came from, all that matters is that you are nice to your fellow campers and counselors and that you share your Oreo’s with everyone. I learned to work as a team member in some of the most difficult situations possible by finding the good in people and making the most out of it. Whether it was teaching campers how to water ski, or playing capture the flag games equivalent to guerrilla warfare, you learn to accept others for what they bring to the table. Camp opened my eyes to what attributes truly matter in people.

     Camp gave me an outlet. Growing up is hard; school is stressful, friends let you down, and family issues create problems out of your control. Compared to others, my home life was in no way bad, but we all have our own struggles that have the ability to consume us entirely. I would count down the days until I was able to run from these challenges and escape to camp. At camp I could be the best version of myself as a happy, friendly, creative, determined, cool (people thought I was cool lol) girl; my self-confidence surged during the summer time. Camp gave me the freedom to be who I wanted to be.

     Camp gave me my best friends. Summer camps are a weird place, any person who has ever gone to one can vouch for me on this fact, but what is even weirder than the place, is the people that choose to go there. The good news? These weirdos have been through the same epiphanies at camp that I have and we already have a bond to last a lifetime. Whether it was showering in the lake, climbing on the roofs of cabins, or just doing general tomfoolery, the best friends I could ever make were there with me. At camp I laughed the hardest, smiled the biggest, and made the best memories I could ever ask for. Camp gave me my soulmates.

     Camp made me stronger. I attended my summer camp for over a decade, and during each summer I would become mentally, physically, and spiritually stronger. Whether it was hiking up those incredibly large hills, learning skills for the first time, or reflecting on my personal values, camp gave me time to develop and mature into the person I am today. Living in a world where everything is in constant motion, where we are always pushed to be better, do more, and get ahead, we are not left with much time to actually develop the skills to make ourselves the people we aspire to be. Camp gave me time and a place to grow.

     The most important thing my sleepaway camp ever gave me was a home. I found my place in a cabin in Michigan where I felt unconditional love, happiness, and comfort for a couple of weeks out of the year during some of the toughest times of my life. While everyone’s experiences differ, this attribute holds true to any camper, counselor, or alumni of a sleepaway camp that has ever needed a place where our hectic lives could stay the same- even for just a little bit. This is a place we could call our own, where we knew we would always be able to find our friends, family, and even ourselves. Growing up we feel the need to cling to things for comfort for fear that our changing environment will take them away from us. We seek familiarity in all aspects of our life which is what makes leaving behind memories of making s’mores, catching lightning bugs, and watching fireworks on the 4th of July so hard. At camp it seems as though time stops as we are able to run away and reminisce on simpler times in a landscape that seems unchanged. The only problem is time doesn’t stop, all things inevitably change; fires burn out, memories fade, and we age.

     I am not the first person to deal with this weird, slightly culty, coming of age, and I certainly will not be the last. As I bid adeiu to my summer camp I realize the immense effect it had on my life and I am incredibly grateful for the lessons it provided me. Yes, I am growing up and yes, I am leaving behind one of the most important places I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing, but the impact it has created on my life will never be forgotten. Camp means a lot of things to a lot of people, and the change we experience over the years is the only thing that will make our camp experiences worthwhile. Because through it all the biggest change that happened was in ourselves. 

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About The Author

Zoe is a junior at UCF studying Radio and Television with a minor in Business while she waits for her long lost grandmother to tell her she is actually the Princess of Genovia. She loves musicals, photography, waterskiing, and tricking people into thinking she is well rounded. In her spare time, you can find her speed walking around campus attempting to dodge as many longboards as possible. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter @causeimazoe if you're interested in learning about her oh so advenurous life.