Like a lot of college students, I spent two months of my summer sleeping in a cabin in the woods.
After struggling to find a summer job that I was excited for, I received an offer from a sleep-away camp in New England. A week later, I packed up my things and traded my new air conditioned bedroom for a bunk bed in a cabin.
Though it was an extremely emotional rollercoaster (emphasis on extremely), I did learn quite a few things.
Temporary paint is not always temporary.
With having to plan numerous cabin activities for your campers, your “creative” ideas start running a little low. Our camp had four sessions that were each two weeks long so as leaders, we were responsible for coming up with an activity for our entire cabin to do every single day they were there. Of course, you do have those super cool and creative ideas like rock-climbing and tubing but when all your ideas run out, you’re left with a fun thing we like to call “wacky painting.” Despite the name, there is absolutely nothing fun or wacky about wacky painting. After doing it three times, the only exciting thing I found was that one morning three days later when you finally took a shower and did not come out green.
Cellphones are a thing of the past.
Being in the middle of the woods, cellphone service is obviously something that is not super great. We were told we would rarely have service and that is a rule I thought I would be able to cheat—but I obviously was not. One of my favorite memories of camp is the first time I realized that my phone was dead to me (literally). I was with a group of friends for r&r and we had snuck out to one of the buildings that was on the waterfront. We got onto the roof and I was just thinking about how great the service probably was—and then immediately shutting up as soon as I saw the view. The moon and stars were reflecting off of the water and everything was so still—all I remember was wishing everything would slow down, so I could take it all in. You don’t really realize how much of an impact social media and phones in general have on our lives until you finally take a moment to just put it all away.
Your co-leaders become your lifeline.
Since the only jobs I’ve had were retail, I had never experienced anything like this before. I accepted the job because it was something my brother had been doing for years and absolutely fallen in love with, and that was something I really wanted to experience. I had absolutely no idea what types of things campers would be going through and I certainly had no idea what I would be going through, so being able to have those people who were in the same boat was a really important thing for me.
You go through everything your camper is going through.
As mentioned before, every session at this camp is two weeks. That means we have the campers for two straight weeks with zero visitation from their parents—we ultimately become that parent figure for them. Taking away and replacing that authoritative figure was probably one of the hardest things to accept for me. I was told a lot of things from campers within the first few days that still continue to stick with me now almost two months later.
There will be vomit.
I remember sitting at orientation zoning out during yet another 2-hour lecture about how to be a successful leader and immediately gaining back attention when our camp director said, “and please for the love of god do not let your campers swing from the rafters.” That was a sentence I thought I would never hear and something I thought I would never see—until I walked in on my first day as a leader to see every single one of my campers literally hanging from the ceiling rafters. They will cry, they will throw up in their beds at three in the morning, they will have accidents—it’s life.
Personal care is super, super important.
Fast forward to my first day of session two. I had somehow managed to survive my first session as a cabin leader but had also managed to catch a god-awful case of strep throat. I made the dreaded walk to the health lodge where they put me in quarantine where I slept on the top bunk with my lovely bunkmate—who was also my co-leader (meaning our cabin was completely unsupervised and 100% swinging from the rafters). Unlike many other jobs, we want to show up for work. Our camper’s happiness and experience pretty much depends on us and it is kinda a big deal—but it only took me one lecture from the nurse to learn that I am just as important as the campers. We get exhausted, we get dehydrated, we get emotionally drained, and all of that has an impact on how we perform as a leader. You don’t realize how much not worrying about makeup and hair every day, drinking tons of water, and getting enough sleep will do for your overall happiness and energy level.
You will never experience anything else like it.
As I said before, my brother grew up spending two weeks every summer at this camp and continued to work there until he was 23 years old. Most of the other staff members were just like that, so I was the “new girl” that showed up having only attended camp once when everyone else had known each other since they were 7 years old. If you looked at us on my last day, though, you never would have guessed that. I had the opportunity to laugh and cry with friends that I felt like I had known for years. I saw things that were so truly amazing that I couldn’t help but just soak in the moment in silence. I made memories and friends that I will carry with me for years to come. I created a memory that will never fail to bring a smile to my face.