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.
Falling in Love with Camp in America – by Laura Knight
(A version of this story was originally published on the IEP NZ website)
Amongst the trees, under the summer sun, far north on the east coast of America, in a town called Naples, Maine, is where I call ‘home’. It’s not the town I grew up in, or the house per such, as that will always be there, but this place – my summer camp, situated on a beautiful lake, with the brightest stars & greenest grass, will forever remain my happy place.
As a young, adventurous 18 year old, I had no idea what I was going to do after I graduated from high school, so I signed up to spend my winter abroad in the U.S. to chase the sun. It wasn’t so much that I knew camp was for me, but I was ready for a challenge and to escape the bubble of my hometown. Now, as a 23 year old, much wiser and in touch with myself and others, I can’t thank my past, brave self enough. Camp isn’t just for me – it’s a part of me, now.
Camp has changed my life – for the better. Camp has taught me so much about myself and others that I don’t ever think I’d be able to learn anywhere else. Camp has taught me patience, understanding, and compromise. It’s taught me how to be a leader, how to eat really fast, how to laugh until I cry, how to work under pressure, how to work when I’m exhausted but how to rest, it’s taught me that strangers can become family in the shortest amount of time, It’s taught me that I can handle a lot more than I think and that it’s the best job I’ll ever have. But most importantly, it’s taught me how to be the best version of myself, I can be.
Having the opportunity to explore other areas of Maine and surrounding states has been a huge highlight for me. As much as I love spending all my time at camp, it’s nice to get out of the camp bubble, explore the real world and see what the U.S. has to offer. Live country music gigs, shopping malls, baseball games, lazy river floating and hiking in national parks are just a few of the highlights that I’ve experienced throughout my years returning to camp.
When I first started spending my American summers at camp, I was spending my days teaching soccer at an all-girls, 7 weeks, sleepaway camp, and my nights with my bunk, getting to know each other, pulling pranks, having fun, eating candy and constantly laughing. As the years went by and I returned each summer, I was lucky enough to become their unit leader and live in a HUGE bunk with all of my division, spending pretty much 24/7 with them – I wouldn’t of had it any other way.
Some people ask me if it was hard, why I go back each summer or if I regret anything, and the answer is; NO! Yes, some days I was tired and I had a lot to do, but there was never (ever) a day that I wished I wasn’t there. In fact, my days at ‘home’ are spent wishing I was back at camp! If I could go back and relive my entire time at summer camp, I would in a flash. It’s shaped me into who I am today. It’s shaped me into the person who now jumps at different and challenging opportunities. It’s helped me become ME. It’s helped me be able to deal with dif
ficult circumstances and changed my life, 100% for the better.
The only downfall of camp is the people you meet… Not because they aren’t great… It’s the opposite, they are amazing! The friendships you form from day one, the people you meet, the children you get to call your own for a summer, and a lifetime after that. The bonds that are formed will last forever. It’s magical. And it happens. Each summer. Summer after summer I have made the best friends in the world, and summer after summer I have to say goodbye to them, with tears and physical pain, after only weeks of knowing them. This. This bond is something I’ll never be able to comprehend.
Your camp friends see you at your worst, your best, your prettiest, your ugliest, when you’re sad, when you’re happy, when you’re dirty, when you’re clean, when you’re hangry, when you’re hyper. They see you, for YOU, and they love it. You love it. There are no preconceived ideas of who you are or how you’re meant to act. As soon as you walk through those gates at camp, you get to be the ‘you’ who you want to be. And to me, that’s the best thing anyone could ask for.
So if you’re over-thinking and second-guessing living abroad for a U.S. summer, think again. This opportunity is the gateway to many more to come your way. This opportunity is sure to change your life (for the better), and provide you with life long skills, friends and memories that you’ll forever be reliving.