You do get time off right??

Everyone knows being a camp counselor is a full-on job and if it is something you are considering then you have probably prepared yourself for the long, intense hours you will put in (let’s be honest, those who are looking for an easy way to make a buck or two wouldn’t be considering a role at camp!).  But it’s OK to still wonder about days off.

Counselors perform the best when they are well-rested and energised so aside from the legal duty employers have to give you scheduled hours/days off, you can be sure that your Camp Director will want you to take some precious time away from the children.

We asked Alice, a returning counsellor at Long Lake Camp, to give us the low down on how days off worked for them.

“Scheduled weekly days off started at 10pm the night before and ended midnight the following day, which was a great time to relax, unwind and do whatever you wanted! Camp operated a nightly bus to the local town and dropped off staff and then it would pick us back up and take us back to camp in time to ‘sign in’ at midnight. It was always so much fun and a great opportunity to get off of camp for a few hours and unwind and have some drinks with friends and also make new ones too! If going out at 10pm for a drink in town wasn’t your thing then you could go up to ‘the loft’ or to the dining hall to hang out with friends back at camp.

On days off I would always have a bit of a lie-in and head off into town for breakfast with some friends (luckily, we could borrow a friend’s car!) Breakfast at the diner was always a great start to a day off as it was nice to enjoy some good food. I explored nearby towns such as Lake Placid, Lake George and Old Forge which were all so beautiful. Nearer to camp there were some beautiful treks up mountains and the surrounding areas. The beautiful ‘Rich Lake’ was also a great spot to hang out with friends nearby to camp. A cinema in Tupper Lake was an easy to reach place to go to the cinema and the pizza restaurant nearby was delicious!

Camp also operated a small mini bus that could drop you into Long Lake town if you wanted to just relax and chill on the beach or get some food at the local restaurants and shops. If you wanted to just relax at camp on your day off then you could join in with camp activities such as jewellery making or even sports at the waterfront so there was lots that you could do to keep busy and unwind after a busy hard weeks work. Many days off my friends and I used the camp’s tennis courts to play sports which was always lots of fun.

You would also be given an hour off a day for some free time and I usually used this as a precious time for a quick nap to refuel before heading back to work – depending on our work load that day I would gage whether it was a well-deserved hour break!”

The dreaded Embassy Appointment….is it really as bad as people say??

After obtaining a position at camp and completing all the paperwork for your J1 visa it is time to read over the instructions for booking an Embassy appointment at least a million times before taking the plunge and booking it…

The whole experience can be intimidating. If you are lucky enough to live near an Embassy then the process will seem less of a chore but for many, it will involve a day trip or even an overnight stay.  Try and make a weekend of it, perhaps meet up with some new camp friends if you can co-ordinate your appointments or at the very least find something else fun to do to incorporate into your trip.  Doing that will reduce any anxiety you may have leading up to the appointment.

On the day, it all begins with someone checking you have your forms and sending you through security – it’s basically just like going through airport security. Each Embassy will be different but they are usually like mazes, with instructions to go up this elevator to this floor and wait in three different areas over the course of your interview – confusing but easy to follow all the same.   You will typically be asked a few questions by a few different officers about what you will be doing in the States and any plans for after you have finished working. The questions are easy to answer because all you have to do is be honest, but even simple question like being asked what camp you’re going to, its address and what you’re going to be doing there can be intimidating, especially the first time. Don’t sweat it! Just answer in short, polite sentences.

Looking around you might see lots of people with lots of different papers which can be stressful because you feel like you don’t have the right ones, but remember that there’s lots of different reasons people need to go to the embassy. It’s important to ensure that you have all the papers you need, as well as the back up ones that are recommended just in case, such as proof of funds. It makes it easier if you are organised so perhaps try having one plastic sleeve/folder for the essential papers and a separate one for the back-up ones. Only bring a few personal items with you – phone, wallet, passport and paperwork – they don’t let you bring anything into the embassy anyway.

Once you have answered their questions and paid the required courier fees (which admittedly hurts a little) they take your passport for processing. This can be super stressful as everyone understands the importance of a passport but try to remember that they are a Government organisation who can be trusted and they only keep your passport as long as necessary, usually just a couple of days.   They deal with thousands and thousands of passports and it is very very rare for a problem to occur with returning somebody’s passport so try to be reassured that it will be in safe hands.

As a tip, try booking the first appointment of the day, as there isn’t a chance for a backlog to accumulate so you are likely to be in and out in under an hour. But if you do find yourself in a windowless embassy for hours waiting for your turn then look around, see if you can spot a fellow counselor and strike up a conversation…. this could be the first  of many camp friends you meet along the way…

 

Life as a camp counsellor…is it really 24/7??

For residential camps it really is all systems go 24/7…sure the kids do sleep (fresh air and exercise is sure to mean even the most hyper sleep soundly) but that doesn’t mean there aren’t occasions when a camp counsellor is called upon in the middle of the night.  It’s one of the less glamorous sides of the job and thankfully for most, being woken in the night is a rare occurrence.

Staff really are the heart and soul of a camp so making sure you stay energised and rested will be a priority for camp management.  For most camps there will be a designated area for staff to hang out away from children and there will be certain hours in the day where staff will congregate and catch up socially.

Here is an example from Long Lake Camp:

“At Long Lake there are a few spots for staff to hang out; there is the loft, which is above the dining hall, the campers aren’t allowed in there so was a space away from the kids – if you weren’t required in the cabin counsellors could even sleep in there if  they wanted to so they weren’t woken up by the bell or the kids! There is also the F.A.B, which after the campers are in bed (which was 10pm) was a place you could hang out , there was TV’s to watch films or play video games and computers if you wanted to make travel plans etc. On camp not everywhere had WIFI but the loft and F.A.B did so counsellors could also use the WIFI to call home etc.

Counsellors have between 10pm- 12am if you aren’t on OD (On Duty, which means you watch a bunk until one of there counsellors signs in, you would do this once a week to share it between the counsellors) so counsellors have that time hang out, the camp put on a bus to the local hotel so you could go there for drinks or just hang out somewhere on camp. Counsellors at Long Lake get a period off a day (1 hour) so you could possibly go into town if you had a car or knew someone who would drive you. You could also use this time to do an activity on camp, for instance photography, the lake or sport. Though for the most part periods off are spent sleeping! It’s a good time to catch up with sleep as the campers aren’t supposed to be in the bunk during activity periods. Sleep or having long luxurious showers where you can take as long as you like to wash your hair – free time is definitely your chance to do things without being rushed!”

 

Can you recreate the magic?

Thinking of returning to work at camp again this year?  It’s natural to have a little apprehension as to whether your second, third or even fourth summers will be as good as the last.  We asked a seasoned pro now going into her fourth year, how you might expect things to differ each year you work at camp.

“Although it undoubtedly gets easier, there are definitely still unique challenges that accompany every summer!

It’s great to be able to go back to camp and know exactly how the schedule works and the ins and outs of the logistics. This also puts you in a good position to be able to help new counselors! I’ve been lucky enough to be afforded more responsibility each year I’ve returned, which I appreciate as an opportunity to learn and grow every summer. There are lots of staff and campers that are regulars at camp, and it’s so exciting to be able to see all those people again, especially when lots of them live in completely different parts of the world! I met my best friend at camp and returning means that I get to spend 8 or 9 weeks with her each year.

However, returning to camp also means that more is expected of you. Managers sometimes have less patience with you because you should already know the ropes. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I think it’s important to be held to a high standard, but definitely something that is different. Sometimes you return to camp expecting everything to be exactly the same and this will never be the case. The people will be different and this changes the overall feel. It can be strange because when you get back to camp it feels like you never left, but at the same time there are many things that have changed.

Going back to camp can also be exciting, because camps grow and change over time. Every year at ILC there is new equipment, buildings and activities. Being a part of this growth makes you feel like you are really a part of camp, rather than just there for a single summer.”

 

Each camp year will be different and I think that’s what keeps it exciting. It’s hard to not expect everything to be the same, and some summers will definitely be better than others, but the unique challenges that each one presents and the new people that you will undoubtedly meet make it well worthwhile.

Sometimes all you need is a hug

We asked Siubhan, a counselor and circus instructor at Independent Lake Camp, what life is like if you are having a bad day whilst working at summer camp…

“At Independent Lake Camp, the support system for bunk counselors is excellent. We work directly under our head counselors, who are at camp to ensure not only that the campers are having a great time but that the staff are happy, because the counselors that are best at their jobs are also the ones that are happiest! If there are ever any problems with campers, other staff, or personal issues, the head counselors are always there and always very approachable. Sometimes even if all you need is a hug because you’ve had a bad day, head counselors are happy to provide that, and maybe even some snacks or a listening ear.

There are three head counselors at camp, a boys and a girls ‘Lakeside’ head (the older campers) and an ‘Elkview’ head (the younger campers). Although you work with one more closely than the others depending on which bunk you are in, all of them are always approachable and willing to help with any problems. They care so much about bunk counselors’ and campers’ wellbeing that sometimes they sacrifice their own! So it’s important for us to support them as well and do our jobs to the best of our ability.

In addition to head counselors, I am very lucky to work in the circus department, which is often referred to as a family. Everyone in the department is close with each other and extremely supportive. Our heads of department are strong female leaders who I look up to and have learned a lot from. They have always been there to help me with any issues that I have, both within the department and outside of it. From not knowing what tricks to teach a specific camper or how to put an act together, to trouble I’m having in the bunk, I know I can count on not only my peers but also the senior members of staff. There are sometimes days when teaching is really hard because you’re sick or missing home, and they will always do their best to support you and make everything just a little bit easier.”