Camp America - Everything You Need To Know!
Updated: Jun 14, 2019
Hello and welcome to the second instalment of Misled Millennial’s travel series. Last week I answered my most FAQ, ‘How to Travel With Anxiety’. This week, I will be answering another question you guys want the answer to. Everything you need to know about working at an American Summer Camp.
Whether it’s a gap year filler, something cool for your CV, a journey to finding yourself, or just for a laugh before committing to adulting. Camp America is one of the most popular ways to travel as a young person. So, I think it’s best you know what you’re getting yourself into.
I was a camp counselor for 2 years at Long Lake Camp Adventures, based in the Adirondack Mountains in New York.
*IMPORTANT* I think I should tell you, I very nearly pulled out because of fear. In fact, I called my sponsor up and said I wanted to withdraw my application the first year. Luckily some absolute hero on the other end of the phone told me to sleep on it and call back tomorrow if I was still sure. That night, Long Lake Camp called and the rest was history. Call that fate right? And also an absolute guardian angel of a man on the phone!
I nearly missed out on the opportunity of a lifetime because of fear of the unknown. So, if that's you, and you're panicking, this post will reassure you with everything you need to know.
1) You won’t break into song every 5 minutes, despite every American movie ever – You will, however, get your fill of American movie goodness with smores, campfire cookouts, corn dogs, peanut butter jelly sandwiches, beer pong and more. Ohh yesssss.
2) You will probably end up broke – Camp is not a job you do for money, in fact it will probably cost you more than you make, especially for your first year. Your sponsor will take most of your wages and leave you a penniless backpacker. Okay, okay, it’s not that bad, but it’s tight. What you lack in funds, you certainly make up for in experience though, and when it comes to life, what’s more important?
3) You will spend more than you think - Here is some advice I wish someone had told me when I went my first year with $400, thinking I was Kayne. When you’re working, you are fed, housed and just generally taken care of. But what about days off? Now of course, you are more than welcome to stay onsite, but your new friends will be out adventuring, and chances are, you’ll want to go too.
Eating out in America can be quite pricey. You will also need gas money for the awesome American friend you will make with a car. Money for excursions. Money for that tattoo you absolutely will get, even if you promised your parents you wouldn’t. And most importantly, beer money! Or Four Loco money. If you know, you know.
You also need some for travelling afterwards, but we will get to that in a minute.
4) Beer pong is absolutely a thing. Start practising now. You’ll thank me later.
5) The visa process is not as scary as it seems – I could write a whole post on what to expect and how best to prepare for this if you want me to?
But for now, I’ll give it to you in short. If you’re anything like me, any sort of official process terrifies you. Not because we are criminal masterminds, quite the opposite actually. We are a such goody two-shoes that any kind of rule enforcement leads to palpitations. So, my advice for the visa process would be this…
5a) Give yourself plenty of time – Do it as soon as you possibly can and don’t leave it until last minute. Make your life as easy as possible.
5b) List all your steps – Your camp sponsor (i.e Camp America, Camp Leaders, IENA etc) should already do this for you, but it might make you feel better to have your own copy. I would recommend writing down each step you need to do, how much money it will cost, and roughly how long it will take to get done.
5c) Get as much help as you need – Your sponsor, the camp, friends, or family members can help you complete anything you’re stuck with. Both your DS-160 and police check are done online and have instructions to follow. Your medical check is much less scary than it sounds too, and only requires a signature from your doctor.
5d) Get yourself a binder and keep all of your documents in it. Don't forget to take it with you to your embassy appointment and to America!
5e) Please don’t worry – As someone that got themselves into a right mess over it, it’s really not bad at all. There are step by step instructions for everything. Your sponsor is there to help you and the official people aren’t scary either. Your actual embassy appointment takes about 10 minutes and border control in America takes about 2 minutes! It’s honestly the queuing that takes the time. If you aren’t a serial killer, chances are, you will be absolutely fine.
6) Camp won’t be anything like you expected – Whatever you have in your head, scrap it. It won’t be anything like that. It will be better. It will exceed every expectation and leave you wondering why you didn’t do it sooner.
7) You will have plenty of WTF moments – I think my first one was learning to wakeboard with the girls I was looking after. Attached to a speedboat and looking across the Lake, I realised I was getting paid for that. I also rode quad bikes, drove a jeep, rode horses, went white water rafting, the list is endless. It’s so much fun!
8) It will be the hardest job you ever do – It’s long hours, hard work and draining. Sometimes you can work like 17 hour days. You will meet children with difficult backgrounds that will break your heart and you’ll constantly be on your feet. But do you know what? No matter how exhausted you are, you’ll happily wake up and do it all again.
9) The kids are amazing – Whether you’re experienced with working with children or not, you’ll love it. You will meet children from all walks of life and form such an awesome bond with them. A lot of the kids I worked with still send me messages of what they’re up to. It’s such a rewarding job.
10) It will change you – For the better. My first year I was super shy and scared of the world. I had no confidence and was a bit socially awkward. But when I left, I felt I owned the world. The 2nd year, I was in a really bad place, and probably returned too soon, but camp is amazing for making things more bearable. Camp gave me the confidence to know I could handle myself. I was trusted, I was capable, I was liked. I could be me.
11) The other staff members become your family – I promise you. You all become so close because you are all experiencing this journey together. No matter how scared you are, how nervous you are, how homesick you are, there will be people your age feeling the exact same way. Your camp friends will always be there for a chat, hug, rant, or beer! You can always count on them from the moment you arrive at camp until forever! My camp friends have seen me at my best, and my worst, and they supported me through it all. It's a crazy to think people you haven't met yet will mean so much to you.
12) Spend as long as you can – You get 30 days on your visa to travel after camp. Use every last second if you can. America is awesome. Do that road trip with a group of friends you’ve always dreamed about. Now’s your chance. The first year I went on a road trip from East Coast to West Coast in a group and it was so awesome! It cost around $1500 and was life-changing.
13) It’s one of the best things you’ll ever do – Sure there are hard days. Days you’re so tired you cry over what’s for lunch. But all in all, it is the most rewarding job you’ll ever do. The memories you’ll have, friendships you’ll make, children you’ll help, places you’ll see, are all worth it. I will treasure my time at Long Lake Camp Adventures forever and ever, alongside all the awesome humans I met doing it.
I hope this post has made you feel better about it, or made you totally want to sign up for next year. If you’re going this year, then enjoy. If you’ve already been, I hope you’ve got the feels right now. And if you haven’t been, start planning your trip next year. You won’t regret it.
As always, tight squeezes! X
Question of the week: What’s your favourite American movie?