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What My Campers Taught Me

When most people think of summer camp, an image of Lindsay Lohan in The Parent Trap comes to mind. While that movie illustrates camp activities and the interior of a bunk somewhat realistically, there is so much more to sleep-away camp than that film could ever reflect. For example, the camaraderie, spirit, and relationships that develop at camp are indescribable. As a camper at my tiny sleep-away camp in the poconos for 10 years, I was fully immersed into this culture. I would make countdowns on my calendar and wait for the cold winter months to turn to warmer temperatures, signaling that going to my “second home” was right around the corner.

However, this past summer I took on a new role as a counselor: the next step in one’s “camp life.” While being a counselor is change enough, I also took on the role of a group leader, meaning I would lead a group of 34 girls all day, everyday, for 49 days of the summer. This position included caring for bee stings, stomach aches, homesickness, fights, and boy drama 24/7. Saying it was a walk in the park would be a lie. Saying that there were never times I felt like I needed my own counselor just to help me would also be a lie. There were times I was so stressed that I felt like the place in which I had grown up was an unfamiliar environment. In retrospect, now that I no longer have to sleep wondering if a camper will wake me at 3 am asking me to take her to the health center, or fill out abundant amounts of paperwork for a camp-out, I can appreciate that I learned more from my campers than I ever could have expected.

I am the first to admit that I am not the most patient person. So, who better to test this quality than a large group of middle school teenagers? Having to cater to so many different girls and different personalities taught me how crucial patience is, whether pertaining to teenage girls, or within my academic schedule at school. Through learning to be there for all of my campers, no matter the time or the place, I understood how important commitments to others are and how that extra step for someone else actually appears as a mile.

At the end of the summer, watching my girls crying to leave this place with tears down their face, a position I was once in as a camper, I truly understood the “camp circle.” I was once that young girl crying because she did not want to leave the counselor she had looked up to and learned from. Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, I became that counselor. I bonded with girls seven years younger than me as if they were my camp friends who I met 10 years ago.

While I am unsure if I could ever take on the role I did this past summer, I would not trade that seven week experience for all the stress-free alone time in the world. Until I was stuck in a bunk with girls who are seven years younger than me, I never knew how much someone who is so much younger than you could teach you about yourself and the rest of the world, even if it is in the bubble we call sleep-away camp; I am eternally grateful for the middle school girls that changed my life.

Images courtesty of: Julia Maxman

Julia Maxman is a Freshman at the University of Michigan from New Jersey. GO BLUE!
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