Working in a summer camp is as American as apple pie, and it’s easy for you to get a slice of the action. We check in with Lizzie Spearing, who tells us all about her summer camp adventure…
Personally, working at an American summer camp was one of the best things I ever did. Your co-workers will be your family, your campers will become your children and your camp will become your home. You’ll become more confident than you ever imagined and once bitten by the travel bug, you’ll be forever infected with the need to see and do more. If you’ve seen the Parent Trap and want to look after lots of mini Lindsay Lohans’ (pre-rehab days) then read all about my summer camp experience and sign up for yourself…
Get your very own Summer Camp salute, like BUNACer Lizzie, who stands second on the left
Why I decided to go to camp
One week, as my university lecture was finishing, my teacher announced that there would be a work abroad talk afterwards from BUNAC. Wearing their beautiful teal t-shirts, the BUNAC team spoke with such passion about the adventures of camp, and I knew this was something I needed to sign up for. After all, I was either going to have a summer of a lifetime in America, or working the night shifts at my local supermarket back home; to me it didn’t seem like a difficult decision.
Signing up to the programme
Signing up for the programme was really simple. I started with an initial £50 deposit and chose where I wanted to be interviewed. My interviewer had been on camp the year before so he told me what to expect and asked me all about my skills and motivations. Before I knew it I had been fully accepted onto the programme and just had to wait until they found me my perfect camp.
The next stage of the application is what I describe as ‘the internet dating of camp placement.’ BUNAC had assured me they would find my ‘perfect match’, a camp that was looking for my specific skills and where they thought I would be a good fit. I wasn’t disappointed, they found me a beautiful camp to work at just outside of Seattle on a lake; the only thing left for me to do was head to the US Embassy to get my visa and pack my bags.
With BUNAC’s programme, flights were included in the cost which meant I didn’t have to worry about the stress of travelling alone. A big reassurance for a first time traveller! I made so many friends on my group flight and even got to stay a night in Boston before heading off to camp. Before I knew it I was on my way to camp, ready and raring to go.
Friends guaranteed, face paint at your own discretion.
Camp was better then I could ever have even imagined. Being based on a lake meant that I got unlimited use of all their water activities on my time off, and my camp director could not have been more reassuring and encouraging. My fellow camp counsellors were from here, there and everywhere; it was the perfect combination of international staff and American staff. Having such a wide mix of co-workers meant I not only got the authentic American experience, but plenty of travel buddies once camp was finished.
My first few weeks of camp flew by in a blur. I had been hired as a lifeguard and swimming instructor so most of my days were spent by the pool teaching kids who had never swam before. It was so rewarding teaching kids an activity they’d never tried before and watching them achieve their goals. At camp everyone helps each other so there was lots of opportunity to get involved in a variety of activities, which meant two days were never the same.
I found that one day I would be leading a group on a nature hike, the next I would be organising a talent show. There was one thing for sure, camp life was never boring. I would spend my days singing songs, teaching sports and making a difference to American children’s summer. My favourite part of camp was when the whole camp got together and we sat by the camp fire making s’mores and were endlessly entertained by the campers’ skits and songs.
Sailing is just one of the many activites...
Whilst working with kids was definitely an amazing experience it was my weekends off which I loved as I got to see parts of America that I would otherwise have never seen. My highlights were going to see the first ever Starbucks, celebrating the 4th July at Gasworks Parks (and getting extremely sunburnt), and hiking up Mount Rainier.
Before I knew it camp was coming to a close and I was devastated. I had been in more water fights than I thought possible, had heard more renditions of ‘Party in the USA’ then I’d like to remember and learnt more about myself than ever before. There’s one thing for sure, I definitely came back a different person after my experience at camp.
Even though my camp adventure was over, my American summer wasn’t quite over yet! I got the chance to travel around the States for 30 days after with all my fellow co-workers. We travelled down the West Coast from Seattle to Los Angeles before I flew over to New York to see my brother.
It felt like my summer was over in the blink of an eye but it is something that I would recommend to anyone looking to be more than a tourist and hoping to gain a truly authentic experience in America. Camp gives you the opportunity to be a child again and have more fun then you ever imagined. Make all your friends jealous and go have your own summer of a lifetime.