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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Queen's U chapter.

I think a lot of us have memories of summer camp; screaming and laughing with friends or surviving various catastrophes (with a bunch of kids and a couple harried camp counsellors), some chaos is just inevitable! My own relationship with summer camp has been a little complicated over the years, but working in the kitchen at one this past summer has changed my perspective and pushed me to reflect on my own experiences.

I went to a few summer camps when I was younger, mostly organized by schools or community churches. I don’t think I was too shy as a kid, but I definitely invested more love and time into reading books than putting myself out there and trying new things. I was the type of kid that needed their comfort people around — I needed my friends, cousins, or sibling to pull me out and force me to have fun with the scheduled activities. If it weren’t for them, I definitely would’ve hidden myself away and disappeared into a book while everyone else played games and went on hikes. I needed people to shove me — sometimes forcibly — out of my comfort zone.

I think I lost some of my support network as I went into high school. My family had moved across the country, so my usual friends were far away and I had difficulty making new ones. That translated into me going right back to my own default: hiding in a book as often as I could, and not really trying to have fun with any of the school-organized activities. I stopped associating summer camp-style events with fun and friends, and instead started to fear the inevitable awkwardness of finding a group of strangers to graft onto for a few days so I wouldn’t be completely alone.

As a result, I haven’t had much of an appreciation for summer camps over the past few years. Thinking about them brought back more memories of silently panicking when we were told to make teams for group activities than any genuine enjoyment.

When I applied to work in the kitchen at a summer camp this past summer, the biggest draw of the experience was that it would be different than my previous job. What I didn’t expect was for it to slowly regrow my love and appreciation for summer camps, and all that they do.

It was different from my past experiences right away. The staff played games to get to know each other, piled into a single car for adventures to the grocery store, and sometimes did Disney movie nights after work. 

More than that, I started to get taken up by their enthusiasm for the work they did — everyone wanted to give the kids a good meal so they’d be energized enough for all the activities. As I walked in for my shift, I would see kids laughing and shouting as they tumbled down the makeshift slip-n-slide, or practicing a performance for the night’s campfire show, or quietly giggling as they tied string to their water bottles and wove friendship bracelets.

It was strangely healing, in a way, to be a 20-year-old and see kids have fun together in ways I’d become so distanced from. Counsellors and kids laughed together, cried together, got rained out on camping nights together. I could tell it was intense, but also heartwarming and meaningful.

I don’t feel so estranged from my own summer camp memories now. Today, when I think back to my experiences at camp, it’s easier to recall the way my friends would laugh and tug me out of the room to go swimming or hiking or play games. I still remember the old loneliness of early high school, but now it’s warmed by the knowledge that today I can help kids experience the fun and friendship of my early camp experiences — even just by making a mountain of grilled cheese so they can get back to playing. I look forward to getting back there next summer, and making it a time the kids won’t forget.

Sapphyre Smith

Queen's U '24

Sapphyre is a fourth-year English major at Queen's University.