At the age of 18, after months and months (2 weeks) of endless revising (watching every episode of skins) and last-minute cramming (my face with skittles), I had finally finished my A-levels. Instead of spending a summer of not-so-summary weather in the UK, I decided that this year I would do something a bit different. And so, after hours of trawling the internet for some low-budget adventures, I decided to apply for Camp America.
For those of you who don’t know, Camp America is basically a programme that allows people from all over the world to work in various parts of America for a few months, usually in youth care positions. I worked for a company called CCUSA and was placed in the state of Minnesota for 3 months, where I worked with disabled adults and children. Here’s a few things I learnt from my experience at camp:
Be prepared to work hard:
Before embarking on my long-haul flight to the U S of A, my contract was conveniently delivered to me via le postman to be signed and sent back. Now, originally this contract stated that my working hours would be from 9am-6pm every day with Friday afternoons until Sunday mornings off. But this was definitely not the case. In reality there were days when I was up at 6am trying to stop hyperactive children from covering every piece of furniture in our cabin with toothpaste. And some nights I wouldn’t go to bed until 12 because aforementioned hyperactive child had decided to eat every tube of toothpaste and was now chundering all over himself and his best mate. I’m going to be honest, it was tiring and I really did not get enough sleep but when you see how much fun these kids are having and watch them slowly overcome their shyness, you know it was all worth it.
Comfort zones don’t exist:
Seriously, they really don’t. I was dressing, bathing and cleaning funky-coloured vomit off of these kids which at first caused me to have a minor melt-down and wash my hands 10 times a day. I was also accommodated in a ‘cabin’ with at least 4 other other members of staff, with whom I shared a bedroom, bathroom and practically every minute of my day with. But ultimately, those members of staff became my closest friends and my go-to when things got a bit too tough/a kid superglued a paper cup to my head. By the end of my time at camp, not only had I pushed myself beyond my original comfort-zones and made an amazing group of friends from all over the world but I had also learnt the importance of carrying a constant supply of anti-bacterial hand gel with you wherever you go.
Where the hell am I?
My camp in Minnesota could only be described as something out of the Texas chainsaw massacre, set in no-mans land. The closest building that resembled life outside of camp was a burger bar which was a 40 minute walk away and contributed to a 10 pound weight gain for me and most of my other co-workers. Most camps are situated in quiet, deserted areas with little to nothing else surrounding them. At first, this was definitely a bit of a shock to the system and left me wondering what the hell I was going to do on evenings and weekends. However over time, playing cards and nail polish became our source of entertainment in the evenings whilst the local Americans showed us what it’s like to get seriously drunk and party like a college freshman on the weekends. In fact, I can still here the chants of ‘KEG STAND, KEG STAND?!’ whilst I simultaneously threw up in a nearby fish pond.
Man vs Food:
Putting it bluntly, camp food is kinda shi**y. If you’re one of those lucky/blessed/non-human creatures who can devour a whole order of dominoes pizza with sides and still not gain a single pound then you’ll probably be in junk food heaven. If, however you are like me and miraculously gain 5 pounds just by smelling said pizza, then you’ll soon be desperately crying out for some good old leafy greens. American’s are renowned for their not-so-healthy food choices and camp was no different, my diet mainly consisted of burgers, fries, s’mores, reese’s peanut butter cups, pizza, more burgers and erm… s’mores. And yes, I did get fat. Although due to the country’s rising levels of obesity, I was still labelled by my American friends as teeny weeny…. so I kept shoving my face with s’mores. #YOLOuntilyougetdiabetes
No they’re not on crack, they’re just happy-go-lucky americans:
And finally, the thing that sticks out in my mind the most about camp america was the overwhelming feeling that everyone was secretly going breaking bad on this s***. FYI, they’re not. They just start off their day with a cup of coffee strong enough to kill a small horse and half a box of sugar-loaded fruit loops before slapping on a smile and praising jesus for this beautiful day. Be prepared to adopt a hap-hap-happy outlook on even the most mediocre tasks. You will be expected to sing along to camp songs (many of which are religious) by the fire at night, take part in cringe-worthy camp activities and you will most likely have at least one camper who decides that 3am in the morning is the perfect occasion to begin learning the entire routine to Beyonce’s ‘single ladies’. Learning to smile through it all, even when you’re slowly dying of sleep-deprivation on the inside, will be the one thing that keeps you going, as will seeing everyone else smile too.
Although my experience at camp america was slightly overwhelming at times and definitely pushed me beyond my comfort-zone, I am so glad I did it. Not only did I make some amazing life-long friends from all over the world but I changed and grew as a person, learning to be more patient, positive and more compassionate to others. So if you’re thinking of applying to Camp America, I would highly recommend it 🙂