Working at a summer camp is one of the most rewarding experiences I believe every college student should have during their four years. Being a camp counselor can be even more vital and helpful than any sort of internship you can have. Anyone can work with adults, but it takes true skill, patience, and problem solving to learn how to manage and entertain various groups of kids all day, every day for three months during the summer.
The summer after my freshman year at Ole Miss, I had the opportunity to live on Catalina Island in California and teach kids how to snorkel, paddleboard, and kayak all while living in a cabin and watching over 15 middle school girls every night. While this was, by far, the most exhausting and humbling experience I have ever had, there is no better way to learn about yourself than when you have been stretched to the limits and are both physically and mentally exhausted. That’s when you learn the most; feeling like you can’t go on, but knowing you have no choice because people are counting on you to do a job.
I believe traveling to places you’ve never been to take on jobs you’ve never done is one of the most important things you can do for yourself. Working within a summer camp environment teaches you how to deal with kids and allows you to work within a small group of people similar to yourself.
My co-counselors and I came from all over the country, as well as Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland and South Africa. To work alongside people close to my age with similar interests, but completely different cultures and backgrounds is what also makes working at a summer camp so rewarding. Being a camp counselor or instructor is one of the most selfless ways to volunteer your time and energy to serve others around you. Ultimately, the kids impacted my life more than I impacted theirs during my time as a camp counselor.
When working with various groups of kids for a span of three months, every day presents a new challenge. Being in charge of water activities all day for nine hours meant I was going to encounter kids who loved the water, as well as kids who were scared of the ocean, or kids who were not strong swimmers.
I vividly remember one girl who was terrified to go snorkeling, but loved fish and marine biology more than anything. Having to think on your feet when working with kids, I grabbed a surfboard and had her lay flat on it, while putting her mask and snorkel in the water.
I pushed her alongside me as I continued to lead the group of 15 kids into the ocean that day. She was thankful that she was able to see everything the other kids were, but never had to be submerged in the ocean. Through this experience, I found that I loved to be resourceful and problem solve, and my ability to think quickly and creatively allowed me to be successful at that.
The biggest reason I believe working at a summer camp is something all young people should do is because there is truly no off time. At the end of my nine-hour shift on the dive deck being active and leading kids all day, I then returned to my cabin of girls, who I was in charge of leading that night, and watching over. This is truly when you learn how to step up and be a positive role model, even when you are exhausted and would love nothing more than to curl up in your bed alone at home.
Summer camp is both a positive experience for the counselors and the kids because it allows us to unplug and actually enjoy what is around us. With no cars, paved roads, buildings, air conditioning, TVs or cell phone service on the island that summer, I learned more about myself during those three months than I have the past four years of college.
I developed skills I never knew I had. Any summer camp counselor experience is beneficial because it forces you to step outside of your comfort zone and live with a group of strangers for the summer. I can truly say me and my co-counselors became like family that summer, and I still keep up with them all over the world almost three years later.
I urge everyone who has ever considered being a camp counselor to apply anywhere and truly be pushed to your limits. There is nothing more satisfying than growing as a person, developing a new set of skills, while impacting the lives of kids around you for a summer.