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I have to admit, my first few weeks at camp were rough. I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to be a camp counselor or just wanted to re-live my experience as a camper. Plus, I was incredibly homesick and knowing that I could quit at literally any moment and be back home was hard. I spent many nights calling my family, crying, wishing that I was home. My goal was to just make it though the first week with campers, then the third week (my birthday), and eventually quit when we got our staff sweatshirts. Maybe it was the reminder that I desperately needed a paycheck or maybe I finally was accepting the idea of living in the wilderness, but I ended up sticking it out for the entire 8 weeks and those were some of the best weeks (yet hardest weeks) of my life.
My best weeks were the ones that were a challenge. I was mentally and physically exhausted, but I knew that I had a responsibility to my campers and to the staff. Those were the weeks where I found out what I am made of.
What are some of the qualities and lessons I learned and hope to carry with me for life?
Patience: I have to admit, I am by far one of the least patient people you will meet. I often joke, “Patience is a virtue that I don’t possess” and it’s true. I am type-A and when I want something done, I want it done now. So to be surrounded by little children constantly asking questions was a new challenge for me. Honestly, there were some moments where it took everything I had to keep a smile on my face. Nonetheless, I made it through.
Versatility: (or as we refer to it at my camp, Being Adaptable). Again, being type-A, I am an obsessive planner and organizer. I make my own schedule and stick to it like glue. At camp, I had absolutely no control over the daily schedule and even when a schedule was made, it changed nearly a million times. Like when we were under a burn ban and cookout dinners were canceled. Or the seemingly-infinite number of days were it was so hot outside that activities were canceled and swim time was extended. Or the day where it was so incredibly hot outside that extended swim time was canceled in favor of movies inside of the air-conditioned recreation building.
Thinking “on my feet”: Again, with my personality, I tend to question everything. I can spend 15 minutes in the grocery store, internally debating with myself over which brand of tissues I want to buy. At camp, that’s impossible. I had to learn to think quickly without second-guessing myself. There’s no time to spend an hour thinking of what needs to be done if a storm is headed our way.
Calm: Yes, another personality flaw. I’m not the most calm person you will meet. For example, I am terrified of storms. (Seriously, my freshman year of college was marked by me sleeping in the stairwell– our storm shelter– for a number of nights.) And of course, I have no control over the weather, so when a storm popped up, I had to be the calm one. The sky outside was literally red and the thunder was so loud that we jumped whenever it boomed, but I had to pretend that I wasn’t phased by it and that everything would be okay, even when I was in doubt.
Confidence: I’m shy, painfully so. The first few weeks I barely interacted with my new co-workers and spent most of my time alone. As for singing songs? Forget it. It just made me look like a fool. As the summer went along, my confidence grew, and by the end of the summer I was leading songs with the best of them and interacted with my co-workers in a way that I never thought was possible.
Friendliness: I’ve never been a good “friend-maker.” Maybe because I had two built-in best friends growing up or maybe because I preferred spending my time alone, I’m not sure. Even in college, I’ve tended to stick with people who were “like me.” Anyways, this summer I learned to get along with (and actually like) everyone that I worked with, even though we came from different backgrounds and had different beliefs.
Fun: As I grew up, I forgot about the magic of childhood. Singing songs, rolling around in the mud, jumping into the lake… And at camp, I was reminded about them. Just because I’m now a young adult (in college, halfway to the real world) doesn’t mean I have to be boring and solemn for the rest of my life. At the end of the summer, I coated myself in mud and joined my children on a “wild walk.” I sang goofy songs, talked in goofy pretend accents and even pretended to be the conductor of a train while my children were the boxcars.
Nature: I am not an outdoors girl at all. As a child, I preferred to spend my time in the comfortable air-conditioning. Needless to say, everyone (including myself) was shocked when I decided that I would be spending 2 months living in a cabin/tent in the woods with no air-conditioning or indoor plumbing. Yes, I literally cried the first time I saw a spider (and the first time I used a latrine and the first time I experienced lots of things at camp.) By the end of the summer? Hah. I used the latrines with no problem (even though I still was a little grossed out) and slept in a tent with Daddy Long Legs. Although I appreciate the luxuries of home, I actually wouldn’t mind going on a weekend camping trip with my friends.
There is so much more that I want to say about camp but can’t even find the words.
Thank you, to my campers and staff members, for teaching me all of these important lessons. Thank you for your patience and understanding through all of the good and bad days. I will always remember the summer that we shared in the middle of the wilderness. And as our camp song says, “Pennyroyal love is much too strong.”