During my first summer at Camp Alleghany, in 2014, I didn’t know what to expect. I had never been a camp counselor before, had never been to America, and knew nothing of American camp traditions, but I wanted to try doing international work with children and so applied and was accepted.
In spite of the unfamiliarity, and so many unknowns, I boarded my flight and landed at Dulles International Airport. I met the other counselors of what Camp Alleghany calls the Non-Camper Counselor Club (NCCCs — we who had never been to Camp Alleghany before being hired now as counselors) at the airport, and we got on a mini bus for the six hour drive to camp.
Soon we all got chatting on the bus. Everyone was the same as me; they didn’t know what to expect but wanted to get there quickly.
I’m a camp counselor now
Here’s how it went down for me:
I arrive at camp after nearly 22 hours traveling! I am greeted on the “other side of the Greenbrier River” by Taylor Fellows, the Program Director, who hired me and who is directly in charge of the Counselor Staff.
I am told my tent number.
We get on the Barge — the scariest experience of my life. Why? Because we all stood at the front and they drove the van onto the back of the barge. I nearly fall in.
I want to cry.
I am exhausted.
I feel like it is the worst decision of my life to be crossing this river on a barge, to be at this camp, to be in the middle of nowhere!
I go into my tent and see spiders everywhere.
I spend the first night actually crying!
But then…I wake up, the birds are chirping, and through the crack in the tent flap I see that dew is glittering on the grass and the day is still really early.
I suddenly, unexpectedly, feel more at home.
Breakfast is nice and relaxed and everyone chats together easily. It is a delightful and engaging atmosphere to be in — rustic, quiet, welcoming.
As soon as I start talking to people I begin to come out of my shell.
I don’t spend any more nights crying in my bed, I’m not scared to go on the barge, and I find that I’m not that quiet girl who sits in the corner. My personality shines through the experience, like everyone’s, and soon enough everybody knows my name and I know their’s.
Now, I do have to speak quite slowly and clearly — my strong Brummie accent is too much for most people to understand, especially Taylor.
I spend the first two weeks with people just nodding at me and smiling as they pretend to understand what I’m saying.
It was quite funny looking back.
My “I Remembers!”
I remember playing crab soccer early in. I really enjoyed it. It turns out I was quite good. What amazed me most was the encouragement of my team despite not knowing me very well. That was when I knew I was going to be happy here at Camp Alleghany!
I spent all the rest of the summer with a smile on my face and telling my friends back home about what an amazing experience I was having.
They were all very jealous! America! Camp! Spiders! Tents! I made it all sound exotic and glamorous!
I guess what I’m trying to remind everyone of is that things like jobs with new people, in foreign countries, in the woods, aren’t always going to be easy! But as soon as you’ve got over the first couple of obstacles, it becomes so much more fun!
I am so thankful that I never gave up.
Despite the Barge, language barrier (American accents!), and spiders I’ll never regret a moment spent at my home away from home (and where I’ll be again for Summer 2016!).
Camp Alleghany has changed me so much as a person and I wouldn’t be where I am today without the ‘Ghany spirit!
All my NCCC love,
— Mariska Hadley, NCCC Counselor, Camp Alleghany For Girls