Attending College During the Time of COVID

Masked up and ready for my first day of classes at James Madison University during the time of COVID.

As a current freshman in college, I have faced many unexpected challenges, as many have, this past year. Camp Alleghany, and specifically working at Camp, prepared me well to overcome these challenges and to work through them confidently.

To start off, I was just entering the peak of my senior year in high school when COVID hit. None of us could have possibly imagined what the past year would hold. I missed my senior prom, sporting events, concerts, my senior class trip, graduation, and even a summer working at Camp Alleghany for Girls. This was heartbreaking for both me and my family.

It didn’t derail me, though. It actually made me even more eager to start college and gain a sense of normalcy again.

At the end of August, I arrived at James Madison University. Unfortunately, two weeks in, the school had so many COVID cases that they had to send people home. I was lucky enough to stay on campus through all of this though and continued to thrive

Back to School

My first semester had many ups and downs with roommate issues and jumping from friend group to friend group, just trying to find a group of people I could connect with. This, along with having all of my classes online, made it very hard to find a rhythm. I tried to remind myself that adjusting to college is a unique experience in general and that I was doing extremely well, especially considering my circumstances.

As I began to talk to my friends and family about my first year of college, I realized just how much Camp Alleghany helped me to become so adaptable.

Most of my other friends at school spent at least the first week missing home, staying in their rooms, and not knowing what to do. I, on the other hand, was thrilled to be starting a new chapter in my life and acclimated immediately. I was out exploring campus, even on the first day. I was ready for an adventure and felt confident in doing so.

While yes, of course, I missed my family, I tried not to let it affect me. I was so used to being away from home that this felt like nothing unusual. As a camper, I was away for three weeks at a time from a very young age. Then, in the summer of 2019, I was a Junior Counselor (JC) and was at camp for eight weeks. Many of my other friends hadn’t spent time away from their families for more than one or two nights in a row. This completely blew my mind since being away from home was so familiar to me.

When you’re away from home for so long, you have to learn to be personally responsible for yourself. Of course, I could still reach out to parents and had a wonderful support system at Camp, but I was on my own to take care of myself. I no longer had someone there to tell me to eat on days off, when to shower, or how to manage my money. The experience as a counselor gave me the opportunity to learn how to do all of these things on my own, which I otherwise wouldn’t have learned until I was on my own at college.

Chin Up

Camp has also helped me to adapt to difficult situations.

As both a camper and a counselor, I’d go into the summer with a plan in mind: which activities I wanted to take and when, certain goals I wanted to achieve, something I wanted to teach, or how I might want to use my free time, etc.

Even though I had these plans, they didn’t always work out.

For example, I’ve had to help a camper rearrange her schedule because a time slot had filled up. While she was frustrated at first, I coached her through taking a step back and reorganizing her ideal schedule. I knew the frustration she was feeling because I face the exact thing myself as a camper.

I faced this again in college.

Going into the fall semester, I had a perfect schedule lined up with all of the professors I wanted and all of the times I wanted. Then, on the day I had to register for classes, one of my classes filled up and another was unavailable. If you’ve ever registered for classes, you know it’s the most stressful five minutes ever. At first, I started to panic, but then I took a deep breath and picked new classes. Camp definitely helped me to adapt to this type of quick schedule change and keep a good attitude at the same time.

On Target

Another example is my performance in archery as a camper. Archery was one of my favorite activities to take as a camper. I even taught archery as a counselor.

In archery, there are different, increasingly challenging, yard lines to shoot from. I worked very hard in order to shoot from various yard lines throughout my many years at Camp, but sometimes I struggled. It was also frustrating those years when we had very rainy summers and we weren’t able to shoot for several days, especially because it takes a lot of time and practice to master archery and one missed class can feel like a real slowdown in progress. Even though these days were setbacks, I reminded both myself (and the campers once I worked at camp) that delays and challenging circumstances are part of what to expect in life. When we have to adjust to something, just simply change course, and have fun with it.

One of the greatest joys as a counselor was being able to see the girls I taught every day in Archery successfully shoot off their yard line. In that mentor-ish (motheringly, big sister, counselor kind of way) I may have been even more excited for them than they were themselves! This is one of the real rewards of being a counselor!

As a counselor, I was responsible for helping solve conflicts in the tent, too.

While everyone loved each other, there were occasional disagreements in the tent, which is perfectly normal, especially for living in such a small space. I had experienced this myself as a camper and learned from my counselors that conflict is inevitable among people — and that it can be resolved in a healthy way.

In my counselor training, this was reinforced. I learned how to sit the girls down as a tent, and talk through what was wrong and how we can fix things. This has greatly helped me build and repair relationships at camp, home, and school.

At Camp, there are five people living in a small space for three weeks. In college, there are two people living in a small space for eight months. Neither are easy and issues are bound to come up. It’s easy to become frustrated. I had roommate struggles for a few months and without the experience of living in a small space at camp, I wouldn’t have known how to successfully address and resolve it.

Camp Alleghany, while being a comforting place, has taught me so much, including how to break out of my shell and adapt to new and difficult situations. I truly don’t believe I would have been able to take on college life so easily, or life during COVID, with such resilience, without the help of ‘Ghany.

Balancing school and “fun” is one of the most difficult things to do, especially the first year of college. Thankfully I had my work experience as a camp counselor to help teach to balance things like planning, scheduling, teaching, paperwork, and having fun with my campers and friends!


Unique Times

The biggest struggle I’ve encountered so far in college though is the strains that have come from the strangeness of the time of COVID. I’ve had an abnormal freshman year of college, but I was able to make the best of it and ended up having a great year. Camp has taught me that things may not always go as planned, but sometimes you just have to go with the flow and make it an adventure.

And camp this summer will have some COVID-related features. Camp has planned thoroughly for this, and while these adaptations are small, and camp will largely look and feel the same, the slight changes help teach us to be flexible in our workplaces.

Are you ready to take on the challenge of being a counselor and experiencing growth opportunities that will help you in your college life, relationships, volunteer work, and future career endeavors? If so, apply now! I promise it’s the best, most rewarding experience I’ve ever had.

As we love to say, “it’s the hardest job you’ll ever love.”

— Haley McClelland, Alum and Staff Recruiting Intern, Camp Alleghany for Girls