How Working at a Sleepaway Camp Prepared Me for My Freshman Year

Most people imagine their summers like this: tanning by the beach, sleeping late, without a responsibility in the world. However, my perfect summer is a bit different. The backdrop of last summer for me was on the shore of Devil’s Lake on the Oregon coast, working as a lifeguard and building connections with amazing campers and staff Working at a summer camp was everything I could ask for the summer before my freshman year of college.


I arrived at camp after taking a hiatus for two summers since my last year as a camper. This year was the first I was eligible to be a staff member, and I knew since my first year as a camper at age ten, that I wanted to be a lifeguard. I was quite nervous but also excited for this role I had wanted for nearly 8 years.


Camp had an embarrassing start. On the second day of lifeguard training, I was doing a practice rescue, which ended up with me actually getting rescued. As I was pulling my partner back in a rear face-down rescue, I cramped up in both of my legs, losing my ability to swim. I was pulled out of the pool by my boss while I was laughing out of embarrassment, and crying due to the immense pain I was in. There I was making a fool of myself in front of people I had met the day before; worried that they would think that I wasn’t even physically fit enough to lifeguard. Great first impression.


Despite my rocky start, I bounced back. After my little accident, I became so much closer with the lifeguard team. Within three days, we were all cracking jokes with each other and ranting about water training in the chilly coastal weather. My friendships with my friends from when I was a camper grew stronger, but I also branched out and got to know a plethora of British and international staff members. Fun fact: there is actually a significant language barrier between British and American English.


Once the campers arrived my job became quite busy. I was a new lifeguard and still learning the ways of the aquatics department, but I was also a counselor at night. Despite the chaos, I loved getting to know my campers and being a mentor to them throughout the summer. It was amazing to be able to tell them about my experiences as a camper and watch them light up with excitement. Camp was my magical place as a child, and being able to pass on that magic is a feeling like no other.


As a lifeguard, I performed tasks and duties that I never imagined I could. A huge part of my job was taking campers tubing. I was instructed to take an online course to get my boat license, and after passing the test I was taught to drive. At first, I was extremely timid learning to drive the boat, letting my nerves get in the way. After a few practice sessions and a few mistakes, I was driving with new confidence. I became a competent and confident boat driver, tubing campers two hours a day. It was a hectic summer, to say the least.


The responsibilities I faced at camp and the lessons I learned made it much easier to move across the country for college. I went into my summer anxious about camp and my transition into college. I came out of the summer with new best friends from all over the world, memories that will last forever, and a newfound confidence in myself. I gained the confidence to try new things on campus and speak out. Working at camp showed me what I value in a friend, and how to be a positive role model. Working at camp was the best possible way I could’ve started my transition into college.