Unbelievable. The sole word I would use to describe my Summer job at my camp in America. I sit here now comparing this bleak, cold, Scottish day to the blissful, sunshine filled ones I spent in Southern California and, consumed with wanderlust, I look back fondly with nothing but joyful memories. AmeriCamp gave me a once in a lifetime opportunity working as a counselor in the beautiful, mountain based camp Pali Adventures; and now I want nothing more than to tell you all about my American adventure!
After being disheartened last year when my application was unsuccessful with another company, I decided to give it another go and went with AmeriCamp instead – which I’m glad I did! I was determined to get #plACed so spent the months prior to registering getting first-aid certified, becoming a qualified football coach and utilising my hobbies by giving guitar lessons. This time it was happening! My determination paid off and within three weeks I had an interview, completed all my documents and had my application blasted into orbit of the AmeriCamp world.
As AmeriCamp have the highest success rate of placements, I was already pretty positive and hopeful that at least one camp, would take interest… even if my video profile was super cheesy. In order to make mine ooze enthusiasm and stand out, I decided to display my talents by using a song that I had written and recorded as the background music.
The mindset I had was to be bold, show off my personality and prove that I was the type of counselor camps would want. A mere two weeks later, I was contacted by Pali Adventures in California who were keen to meet me for an interview. My anxiety was immediately transformed into excitement, now was my chance to prove that I deserved to be part of their Summer staff and in California of all places. As the director was traveling from overseas and only planned to hold interviews in England, I thought this would be a great opportunity to present my eagerness by traveling from Scotland to the interview in Manchester. In all honesty, at no point did my nerves overwhelm me as I had already planned questions to ask, experiences to talk about and jokes to recite.
It was the most chilled out, informal interview I have ever had and I was completely at ease throughout as I felt like I was just having a normal conversation rather than being interviewed. The camp sounded perfect for me as well: shaving cream and water fights, dressing up in tutus and clown wigs, dancing on chairs at meal times! I pictured a place of crazy silliness where I could be myself and be known as their Scottish “goofball” counselor. Two days before Christmas, my wish had been granted. Santa had come early.
The next five months were filled with preparation for the exciting adventure I was about to embark on. Earning money to travel and buy fancy American things like canned cheeseburger soup (…yes, that is a thing), writing lists of essential things to take like flip-flops and, most importantly, booking the actual flights! AmeriCamp provided great flexibility with my travel. I was fully in charge of choosing my own flight time, day and destination; as opposed to other companies who decide all of that for you.
The most nerve wracking part of the application process was probably worrying about getting rejected for my Visa: “I might walk into that interview and make some silly joke about America, or accidentally tick the box that says I’ve been to jail.” However, my imagination exceeded me and it turns out there was nothing to be nervous about at all. I traveled to Belfast, had a very informal two minute interview, handed over my passport and a week later my visa arrived in the post. In the weeks leading up to my departure, I signed up for an AmeriCamp orientation day in Edinburgh. It was a really well organised and fun event that gave you a glimpse into what camp life would be like and a reminder of all the important things to remember before you left and while you were there. As well as platefuls of free biscuits, I was greeted by extremely friendly and helpful staff who diminished any worries I had; even the silly ones like: “What happens if I break my arm and my insurance runs out and I get deported for having no left arm?”. But most importantly, it made me want to fast forward time to stepping on that plane. Flights booked? Check. Visa granted? Check. Crappy Cali girl accent? Check. I was ready to get a taste of that Californian sunshine.
When I touched down in Los Angeles at LAX, surprisingly, I didn’t feel out of my depth. Having never traveled alone before, I was expecting to be a bit lost and apprehensive about my surroundings; but soon I was overwhelmed with excitement and was eager for the challenge ahead. I was already told in my interview that this was going to be the hardest job I had done, and he was completely right. All of the counselors and I endured a ruthless two weeks of orientation before the campers arrived. This included getting up at 6am for lockdown drills, wading into a freezing lake to find a “drowned camper” as well as coming up with our brand new names for the Summer (this was a security measure, so that the campers couldn’t find our identities and embarrassing ‘selfies’ on social media). I liked this idea, I would get to have a sort of alter ego for nine weeks. Not to my surprise, my camp name ended up being Nessie, due to being the only Scottish counselor. Being employed for the role as an action sports counselor, I was responsible for belaying children on high ropes courses, teaching them activities such as archery, as well as encouraging them to throw stink bombs at the other camp specialities. This was all new to me and I was loving every minute.
When the campers arrived, everything I had learned was put to the test. It was time to swim out of the shallow end and dive into the deep end. The first week was tough, I would constantly question if I were doing the right thing, following the correct procedures. However, the great thing about camp was that there was always someone to talk to, everyone was in it together, as a team. After just embracing where you are and what you were hired for, everything becomes like second nature. Your inner confidence comes out and you begin to experiment with different ways of making the homesick campers smile or the anxious ones take part in activities.
As the weeks went on, I would start caring less about doing wrong and more about acting like a hyper maniac. When you got told you were “weird”, you knew you were doing it right. Don’t get me wrong, there were days when I reached that level of exhaustion that I needed some time to just have a little cry and then pick myself up. There is no room for selfishness when being a camp counselor; it’s about making sure every one of your campers is having the best possible experience. When one of my girls approached me and said, “Nessie, you are a great counselor can you and your guitar please come back next year?”, I knew I had done a good job..
Pali wasn’t what I expected a Summer Camp to be like, it was better. Every morning you would most likley get “raided” on your way to breakfast which meant standing in line for pancakes with bits of water balloon and shaving cream in your hair. Then every evening there would be a different activity. For example, dressing up a banana and throwing it off a building. Yes, that really did happen. It didn’t feel like a job. I mean, I was getting paid to dance on chairs while eating my dinner, or to play Taylor Swift on the guitar to get my campers to sleep. I discovered so many new things about myself: That I can perform daft Scottish songs to four hundred American kids, do a fairly decent valley girl accent and that I can achieve anything with a bit of hard work. I have made friends that I am going to cherish for the rest of my life, I have eaten cheesecake in Central Park and I have found a new passion for travel. So if you are reading this unsure about applying for AmeriCamp to join a Summer Camp in America for 2016, all I can say is go for it! I did and it was the best decision I have ever made.
Bronte, 21, a very happy AmeriCamper who lived the California Dream thanks to AmeriCamp!