The U.S. Camp Counselor Program is one of New Zealand’s most popular exchange programs, allowing post-secondary students, youth workers and teachers an opportunity to share Kiwi culture and learn about American history and culture at the same time. Annually more than 900 Kiwis travel to the U.S. to live and work as summer camp counselors throughout the United States. For more information, check out our Exchange Visitor Program page.
Camp America is addictive… It calls me back every year! – By Oliver Batchelor
(A version of this story was originally published on the Camp America NZ website)
Hey, my name is Oliver and I thought, why not tell you a little about my time at camp.
I’ve been a camp counselor in the U.S. for three years now and it has truly been an experience, but I’ll bring it all back to the beginning. As a young year 13 student in Christchurch I was just so eager to see what other cultures were like, and I was unsure about going to university.
So I thought, why not take a gap year to see where it takes me, and I looked into the U.S. camp counselor program. To be honest there was no hesitation on applying, I just wanted to travel!
I chose to do summer camp in the U.S. because I had heard many others doing it and saying that it had changed their whole perspective on life, on what they want to do in the future and they had grown so much as a person. So, upon hearing this I just had to give it a go. The whole process was pretty straightforward and the visa sponsor staff were always there to help and clear anything up. I had three camps approach me for a role, and I ended up going with the third camp that came to me.
The camp I chose is a Salvation Army camp in the mountains of Colorado, so for me as a true outdoorsman I couldn’t be in a better location. Leading up to my departure I was full of excitement. It was my first time traveling overseas alone but there was no fear at all within me. I could not wait for this next chapter in my life which would end up changing everything about me.
The drive to the camp was one of pure beauty – we travelled through the valleys and in between mountains that were much larger than back home. The camp itself was beautiful and it truly felt like I was in the woods all the time. My role at camp my first year was a Wilderness Counsellor. This meant that I was in a small team of five, two female and two male counsellors with a supervisor. The five of us ran a wilderness camp for teens for the week. We would sleep in shelters, have campfires, hike, and learn outdoor skills. Because we were separate from the main camp that was taking care of the younger children, it meant that we developed a bond like no other. This I loved so much. For the past two years I have been the Wilderness Director, which means I’m the supervisor for the four other counsellors and I create the schedule for the summer. A much more difficult role to fulfil, but it was still a lot of fun.
My favourite parts were definitely the hikes that we’d do during the week with the kids and in the weekends on my own or with other staff. Our location was the best for accessibility to climb many mountains, ones taller than Mt Cook. Seeing the growth in the campers and them overcome their fears of heights and being in the outdoors was amazing for me to see. During my time there I’ve learned so much from taking care of kids and from traveling after camp that has made me the person I am today. I would not have expected it to have had such an impact on me as it has. Becoming more patient, caring and understanding for others is a big attribute that you gain from doing this.
Yes, there are challenging parts to doing this. We work with kids from tough backgrounds so we hear things that we could not imagine young kids have to go through, it’s hard but we are able to give them this opportunity to be out in nature and have no worries, a place where they’re loved and cared for, a place to have fun and grow. Not to mention saying goodbye is hard, but is it really a goodbye or more a see you soon? I’ve caught up with many of the people I now call family from camp, building a network across the world where we know we have a place to stay when we visit. If I’m to be proud of one thing over the past three years of doing this, it would have to be the other staff – the other international counselors that come and give everything to their role at camp. They pour so much into the kids and honestly change lives. If you are reading this and are hesitant about going to camp, know that you will make a difference to many kids’ lives. You may not see it at first but if you return to camp you may see a returning camper that remembers you and tells you about how you’ve impacted them.
If you impact one camper’s life then you have made a difference, and that’s something to be proud of.
This program is a great opportunity too if you are unsure on what you want to do after school. Doing this can change your life, and I don’t say that lightly. The people you meet, the family you build is something that will follow you through the future. You’ll develop so much and will be able to take that through your travels and when you come back to NZ. Over these three years I’ve learned that I love going back to camp.
After camp every year I’m a little unsure if I’ll go back, but there is something inside of me that just receives a calling to go back and serve, to help these campers the best that I can. I guess you could say that you get addicted to the traveling bug.