I, like most others, grew up watching American movies. One of the classic, watched-that-a-thousand-times movies was the Lindsey Lohan classic “The Parent Trap”. The film is initially set at an all-girls summer camp (with the exception of one boy, who is grossly mistaken). Now, I’m not naïve. I realise they were on a set, and that’s not how people really live… right?
Well. Let me tell you, it is EXACTLY like the movies. The wooden cabins, the large duffle bags, the daily activities, I could go on and on. I mean there was no isolation cabin, but mostly everything else was just as I had seen in the movies. Yes, we even had a cabin swim naked in the lake. Nope, they didn’t lose at poker (as Annie does in Parent Trap), they weren’t even dared to do it, they just wanted to. And hey, it’s summer camp, go for it.
When I first rocked up at camp (after 19 hours of flying and a 5-hour bus journey), I immediately thought I had made the wrong decision in coming. Number 1, I hadn’t totally thought through the whole “no electricity in the cabins” detail that I had been warned about. I was prepared to charge my phone elsewhere, but the lack of lighting was difficult to get used to. The first night’s sleep was pretty awful to say the least. The beds squeak, the mattress is about 5cm thick, and the ‘fitted’ sheet isn’t fitted enough to actually stay on the mattress. I’m not going to lie, after finishing the day with a cold shower, I did have a little cry on that first night. But despite all of this (and many other not-so-glamourous details of camp), corny as it is, I managed to have the absolute time of my life at camp…. oh, and don’t worry, the shower situation was fixed.
A day in the life at camp is a great one. Life is relatively stress-free, and A LOT of fun. The daily schedule for me included ‘rest period’, which can be spent playing games, writing letters home or making friendship bracelets. But for many of the counsellors, we would use this time to take a quick nap. How amazing, time allocated each day for a good nap! And if that wasn’t enough for you, there’s ‘free period’ as well, where you can do whatever you want (I mean, don’t go too crazy). I made friends with loads of other counsellors (mostly international, like me), who joined me in free periods to explore camp and make the most of everything we had access to. During our 8 weeks at camp we ticked off horse riding, skiing, tennis matches, rock wall climbing, kayaking, paddle boating, swimming in the lake and paddle boarding. There aren’t many jobs that include those perks!
I was hired as a tennis instructor and cabin counsellor, so the other parts of my day were spent up at the tennis courts, teaching all levels of tennis ability. My tennis co’s and I nicknamed the tennis courts “Palm Springs”, because it was ALWAYS sunny and hot there, making it the perfect place to tan. It’s definitely the most relaxed I’ve ever been while working. We would set up matches for the higher-level girls to play each other, and feed balls to the lower levels. Mostly, it was just a whole lot of fun. We taught two, hour-long sessions in the morning after breakfast, and two more after lunch and rest period. And that’s it. A pretty cruisy day if you ask me.
Sadly, unlike in The Parent Trap, we didn’t have a camper playing the trumpet to wake us up in the morning. However, we did have a bell, that was rung for every meal time and at the beginning and ending of every activity period. The wake-up bell sounded at 8am, or 8:30am on “late days”. I would get up at 7am to go for a run and have some time to myself, before 8am came and the routine begun. Getting the girls out of bed was always fun. There were some that would get themselves up, brush their teeth, and change their clothes all before 8am, and others that wouldn’t move until 3 minutes before they had to be in the dining hall. There were usually 4 counsellors to around 8-10 girls, so we would tag team and work together to get everyone up and dressed. Another GREAT rule about summer camp; pyjamas CAN be worn to breakfast, they just need to be different ones to what the girls slept in. Dress-ups are a big part of camp, which meant that we often had at least one cabin in fancy dress for breakfast. Some days it was onesies, others it was tutus, there’s room for creativity here.
Meal times deserve a whole explanation of their own. They are loud, crazy, chaotic and amazing all at once. They would start with a morning grace. It was in the form of a song, because we’re at camp… everything has a song. It was a soft, wakeup song, which ended with the screeching of benches being pulled out from under tables for everyone to sit down, loud chatter from excited girls, and everyone moving around the dining hall to find their favourite cereal.
The girls learn a lot about responsibility at camp, which I like. Each day we would spin the wheel on the ‘job chart’, and each girl was assigned a different camp chore. Three of these jobs were the ‘scraper’, ‘clearer’, and ‘hopper’, which were all meal time jobs. Once everyone was finished with their cereal, the ‘scraper’ would scrape the leftovers into one bowl, to be cleared by (you guessed it) the ‘clearer’, before the ‘hopper’ would get in line for the next part of breakfast. The hot part of breakfast could be waffles, scones (which are more like Australian biscuits, a concept I really had to get used to), scrambled eggs, French toast, or in other words, a whole lot of sugar to start the day. It’s probably for the best, because there are some days when you really need that sugar to boost your spirits for camp songs. It took me a while to really get into the camp songs, I mean it’s difficult when you don’t know the lyrics, and it can be draining singing songs after each meal. But I can now say that standing on the benches in the dining hall, belting out camp songs and the matching dance moves with my campers is one of my best memories of camp.
The next part of the routine is ‘cabin clean-up’, where the girls all make their beds, sweep the floor, fold the clothes in their cubby, and then get ready to head off to activity period 1. The days at camp are very structured, and completely different to how we spend our summer holidays at home, but that’s the amazing part about getting to experience life in other parts of the world.
To break up the same day-to-day structure, every Tuesday was Adventure Day, where the girls, as a cabin, would choose different activities. With my girls, I got to go sailing for the first time ever, bellyflop onto the slip and slide, play dress-ups, paint birdhouses, and even tie-dye my clothes.
And if you think the day ended after 4 activity periods, rest and free period, cabin clean-up and 3 meals with singing to finish… you’d be wrong. Oh no. We still have EVENING PROGRAM! After dinner and flag (yes, we would all stand to watch the flag be put up in the morning, and then brought down at night), there would be one cabin chosen to act out what evening program was. Like a game of all-camp charades! Some of our evening programs included capture-the-flag, mud run, slip-and-slide, colour run, campfire (one of the more relaxed activities), games night and assassin (only tagging, nothing too violent).
Imagine running through the woods, chasing campers and other counsellors as they try to race their flag over to their side of camp. What a time to be alive. AND, this was my job. I was paid to pretty much just have the time of my life.
I won’t pretend that every moment at camp was stress-free and peachy, because that’s not realistic. There were times that I had to adjust to new realities and times that I was so tired I considered just falling asleep with my campers. But there aren’t many jobs that allow you to turn up to staff meeting in your pyjamas, hang out with your friends all day and dive straight back into your best times as a child.
I’ll never forget my summer at camp or the friends I made, and I would encourage anyone considering it to go right ahead!