This summer at Camp Alleghany we introduced a new policy in which counselors were hired for the full summer, rather than on a term-by-term basis. Although this was a big change, the consistency for campers and for team morale makes it an incredibly beneficial hiring practice, and something that I wholeheartedly support.
As a counselor I’ve always loved the energy of first term. But I also adore the fact that in second term, I’ve completely mastered the schedules, bells and bugles, got to know my co-workers, and found my feet. This matters for increasing the smoothness of the program.
In my previous years as a Unit Head, I lost some great counselors at the end of first term and although I gained some excellent new ones, I had to re-assess the whole dynamic of my team. I really appreciated not having to do that as a Head Counselor this past summer: I imagine it’s quite the challenge with an even larger team to co-ordinate!
Sacrifice and bliss
Yet I have a confession to make. This summer was an incredibly inconvenient time for me to go back to camp. In fact, it seemed like a pretty irresponsible decision to everyone over here in England who had never actually been to camp. I was in the final stages of completing my Master’s degree in English Literature and was required to write a 15,000 word thesis. I was also just about to finish up my lease so would be homeless on my return, and wouldn’t be able to attend job interviews from the other side of the world, so would be unemployed when I got home after camp.
Why did I make the crazy decision to uproot my entire life to spend another few weeks on the side of a mountain with minimal Internet access? Because I knew it would be worth it both personally and professionally.
On a personal level, there’s no experience more rewarding in my eyes than spending the summer at camp. Seeing the growth in the campers and counselors I work with is phenomenal, but I — we — also get to see ourselves through the eyes of others. There’s nowhere to hide at camp – the Bunkhouse doesn’t even have a door that closes, so I’m not just being figurative. People see you when you’re at your worst as well as your best. And for me, learning that I didn’t have to be perfect all the time and that people still appreciated me on a bad day gave me a level of confidence I didn’t even know I needed to reach.
I now have no problem wholeheartedly being myself in any given situation, and that’s more valuable than anything I could have learned in my previous job as a bar supervisor. Being self-aware means that I know what I can handle, what I want from a career, what I need from others, and what my flaws are.
An investment in the future
On a professional level, camp is better training for any job than any on-job training program I’ve ever completed, because I can equate my skills to actual experiences. Camp counselors make the best interviewees because when asked to “give an example of a time you dealt with a difficult situation” or “talk about how you keep yourself organized” or even “explain how you problem solved when the plans changed at the last minute” we have a wealth of experiences to draw upon.
All of those questions are ones I’ve been asked in job interviews and knowing that I’ll be able to answer those kind of questions with ease makes me more comfortable, confident and professional in an interview situation. As well as this, it’s amazing how much of the staff training at camp is retained afterwards. Being able to “fake it ’til you make it” and maintain a positive attitude in tough times is a great attribute, as is being willing to “punch the shark” and deal with difficult situations head on. By being accountable through taking “personal responsibility in doing everything” is an estimable quality both in and out the workplace.
This summer was one of the best of my life. When I returned home, even though I was a little anxious about all the Big Life Things to sort out, I had faith in my own abilities to multitask and commit. I knew I could work hard enough to find a apartment, finish my Masters and get a job in a short space of time because working under pressure and in deference to deadlines is just one of the things all counselors get used to at camp.
Since returning, I’ve found my dream apartment, achieved the highest possible grade in my Masters and been lucky enough to take on a year-round internship with Camp Alleghany as a Communications Assistant!
Camp is a winning strategy
So for all the counselors who are not sure whether they’ll have enough time to get ready for college, or who are worried camp won’t look good on their resume, or who are concerned that the time commitment is too great to return next year, I’d just like to encourage you to think hard before you count yourself out. Have a little faith in your capacity to adapt — after all, that’s what we do at camp. You’re probably better at it than you think!
–Georgie O’Toole, Camp Alleghany for Girls