Hello you lovely person! I’m Dave, the Country Director for CCUSA. Although it might sound like a slightly posh job title, it basically means that I help you all get to camp and also get to bring my dog into the office once a week. That is the perk of working at CCUSA for 10 years.
I’ve spent 4 summers, working at Camp Birch Hill and Camp Towanda, 2 of the best summer camps in America. If you talk to other people, they will insist that their camp is the best. I’m sure their camps are alright…but they’re not as good as MY camps.
My first summer was spent at Camp Birch Hill, up in New Hampshire. Before I was placed at Birch Hill, I didn’t even know that New Hampshire existed and thought that America was basically LA on 1 coast, New York on the other coast and people driving pickup trucks on dirt roads everywhere inbetween.
I was placed as a Specialist Counselor, teaching Soccer and Tennis…but in reality, those activities took up the tiniest part of my life at camp. Within a few weeks, I had climbed a mountain, played Mud Football in torrential rain, eaten as many burgers as I could fit into my silly face, been for a ride in a yellow school bus, swam in a lake and dressed up as an incredibly unconvincing woman for a camp talent show.
For a shy, 18yr old, this was a pretty big deal. Before camp, I’d never been out of the UK by myself and wasn’t hugely confident. Working at Camp Birch Hill changed all of that!
After falling in love with America, I then spent 3 summers at Camp Towanda where I worked as a General Counselor and Assistant Group Leader. With this job, I got to hang out with my campers every day, attempting to make every activity seem exciting and interesting. For things like Soccer, Basketball and GaGa (the single greatest sport ever invented) my job was pretty simple as my boys LOVED dashing around. There were other activities (sorry to all Arts & Crafts counselors) where my boys really didn’t care and I had to pretend as if making a small pottery bowl was the MOST EXCITING THING THAT ANYONE HAS EVER DONE!
Apart from getting to try all of the activities at camp, part of my job was to take the campers on trips. In 1 summer, we went to 2 theme parks, a water park, tubing down a river and to a Fair which sold things like Deep Fried Butter (yup…it’s a thing!)
Nothing can quite prepare you for camp…and that’s why it’s so brilliant. With every other job I’ve done, you kinda know what you’ll be doing. When I worked in a café, I knew that I’d serve coffee and that people would shout at me if I forgot to put Soy Milk in their Latte. When I worked at Boots I knew that I’d put things on shelves and that people would shout at me if we’d run out of Lynx Africa Gift Packs.
Camp is different. At camp, no two days are the same, and no one shouts at you…unless you behave like a bit of a wally. One day you could be jumping around on inflatables in the lake. The next day you’re running around camp, picking up items for a Scavenger Hunt. After that you’re learning to how linedance (which is MUCH more fun than it sounds.)
You will make some of your absolute closest friends at camp. When you’re living with the same people for 24hrs a day, you can’t help but get close. Some of my best friends are from camp, and I’ve only actually seen them in person for about 9 weeks! You will form incredibly close bonds with the other counselors and your campers. Just prepare for your eyes to leak when it’s time to say goodbye.
I actually got very lucky at camp and met a girl from Mississippi who thought I was alright. I also thought that she was alright…and 3yrs later we got married! I never thought I’d meet my absolute best friend and future wife at camp…but it happened! Just so you know, I can’t promise that you’ll meet your future wife or husband at camp.
The hours at camp are long and the work is tough, but you never actually feel as if you’re working. When I was at camp, I felt as if I was getting paid to hang out with my best friends all day, laughing for 90% of the day and sleeping for the other 10%. Have you ever done another job where you can say that?
If this will be your first summer at camp, my best piece of advice is to get involved with absolutely everything and don’t feel that you’re too cool for camp. Birch Hill was split into 4 sessions, lasting 2 weeks each. For the first session, I didn’t really put myself forward for anything and stayed in the background. From the second session, I felt a lot more confident and tried to put myself forward for as many activities as possible. By the time I was in my 4th summer, I hosted a Talent Show in front of the whole camp. We didn’t have enough acts to fill a whole show, so my co-host and I came up with a bunch of skits, showcasing our terrible talents. Honestly, the more you put into camp, the more you’ll get out of it! The campers love the counselors who get involved with everything that camp has to offer…so embrace everything that camp has to offer from the moment you arrive!
The food at camp is pretty good. At both of my camps, I got completely overexcited whenever grilled cheese was served. Grilled cheese shouldn’t be so delicious. American cheese is tasteless and their bread is slightly sweet. Somehow, the combination of bad bread and bad cheese creates something incredible and proves that 2 negatives do make a positive. Whenever grilled cheese was served, I would happily fight a child to have the last one, before spending the rest of the day in a blissful cheese coma. If you get grilled cheese at camp, please put 1 in your bag and bring it back for me. I will love you forever.
Every evening we had a different activity. Sometimes it’d be something fairly low-key and campy, like a talent show or campfire…but on other days, someone would come in and put on a show. We had a magician and hypnotist at camp, but my absolute favourite was a guy called Steve Max. He would do an all-camp game of Simon Says. Although it was pretty fun, he was only getting started. For his main act, he would put a camper on a chair AND THEN BALANCE THE CAMPER AND THE CHAIR ON HIS FACE. If you’ve never seen a grown man balancing a camper on a chair on his face, you are missing out. While this happens, the entire camp is chanting ‘PUT HIM ON YOUR FACE!!’ over and over. It was a beautiful moment.
In my first summer, I filled my bag to the very top. I took everything on the packing list that my camp sent through, including a pair of wellies. Looking back, what sort of idiot takes wellies to camp?! Very soon, I realised that I had taken WAAAAYYYY too much stuff and ended up chucking away most of the stuff I’d bought, making room for exciting American things I bought and camp t-shirts I was given. Basically, pack light! You really only need to take a Tesco carrier bag with a pair of sunglasses, some suncream and a Nalgene water bottle. You can get everything else in the States, or ‘borrow’ it from your campers.
When you go travelling, take full advantage of American hospitality. Over here, if you’re invited to stay someone’s house, they don’t really mean it. In America, if you’re invited to stay at someone’s house, they want you to stay at their house!!
In my first summer at camp I travelled for 2 weeks and paid for 1 night of accommodation. I spent the 2 weeks bouncing around the East coast with 3 friends from camp, driving a crappy old jeep and visiting friends from camp. We stayed in Boston for a few nights, then headed up to Cape Cod before driving back to upstate New York and finishing with a week in the city.
Oh…and if you get the chance to visit an American University, definitely go!! It’s exactly the same as every TV show and movie you’ve ever seen. They drink from kegs. There are frat parties. A jock will shout ‘WOOOOOOOOO!!’ They drink from those red plastic cups.
So yeah, that’s my experience of camp. Some people say that camp is a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity,’ as if it’s something you do once before moving onto the next big thing. Camp is much more than that.
At the very least, it will provide you with friendships and memories which will last forever. At best, it will change your life. I know that it has changed mine.