How Working at Summer Camp Prepared Me for College

“But isn’t summer camp, like, for kids?” was typically the response I got from my friends when I told them my summer plans throughout my high school years.  And it’s true, camp is for kids. But it’s also a place for teens and adults to be leaders.

With a lot of the other summer camps I attended growing up, once I hit the 12-14 age, I would become too old to be a camper and too young to be a counselor.  At Kennolyn, though, high schoolers can go through a three year leadership program, gain skills, and graduates of the program may work as counselors in the summer before their freshman year of college.

While many of my friends were road tripping or interning after graduation, I applied and worked at camp the summer before college.  I didn’t realize it until I came to college, but going through the program and working as a counselor that summer prepared me in so many ways I could not imagine.

The roads to attending college and working at camp both start with you putting your best foot forward in an application.  Then you wait with your fingers crossed as that application is carefully reviewed and compared in a pool of other applications.  In both cases if you are accepted, you pack a big suitcase filled with all the things you will need in order to live in another place and spend a prolonged period of time away from your family.  Possibly the longest you have ever been away from them before.

When you arrive, you meet a large group of new and interesting people from different places all at once, and they think your hometown is cool, even though you secretly think it’s quite boring.  Once you’ve gone around and said names, and then asked the same people to repeat their names because you were so busy thinking up your fun fact, all that’s left to do is figure out how to get along with your new colleagues as you live and work together in a shared space.  Easy.

Not really, at least not for everyone, and especially not at first.  But in my experience it gets easier with patience and time.

As the weeks moved on, I began to find my footing and I picked up a lot of knowledge.  I discovered which items I wish I had packed and which clothing I never actually wore (for those of you who are wondering, they were my yellow and green fuzzy Oakland A’s blanket and that-one-shirt-I-never-wear-but-thought-maybe-this-time-would-be-the-time-I-would-actually-wear-it, respectively).

I practiced stepping out of my comfort zone by regularly speaking in front of an audience of over 200 people. I gained invaluable insight from coworkers who were in or had recently gone through college themselves.  I learned when to ask my colleagues for help and was surprised to find there were many times when I could offer others help. I learned about who I was as a new adult in a new place, where the tangible things that defined me like my school, my friends, my home, became intangible ideas I could share with people here at my discretion.

Most importantly, I had the time and space to practice self-reliance.  It can be very hard to trust your own decision making when you haven’t had many opportunities to make your own decisions.  You worry that you’ll make a mistake because you’re being confronted with a scenario you’ve never experienced before. But being confronted with new situations every day makes you realize two things: The first is that there will always be things you can’t prepare for and the one thing you can do is control how you respond.  The second thing you learn is that no matter how great the challenge, it becomes more manageable with the support of others.

My time as a counselor at Kennolyn gave me knowledge and it gave me confidence.  So when I finally got to college and all these new people were sitting nervously in a circle during orientation, not only did I have an adjective starting with the first letter of my first name ready to go, I wasn’t nervous because I knew I had been here before.  I knew the awkwardness would dissipate. I knew that some of these people would become my friends. I was okay with the fact that some would not. It was all alright, because ultimately we were all on the same team. And I knew that whatever college threw at me, I would be okay.  A big part of that came from working at camp.

When I was a kid, I was a camper because I wanted to have fun.  As I grew older I decided I wanted to become a counselor as a way of giving back to a camp that had given me so many wonderful summers as a child.  I truly did not expect to continue to gain so much as an adult.

In the midst of transitioning from high school to college, from adolescence to adulthood, there’s a lot of change and many moments of uncertainty.  Did I really pick the right school, the right job, the right path? Were there things I could have and should have done differently? Will this summer internship be the kick start for my career?  Isn’t summer camp, like, for kids?

I’m writing this now in my dorm room in college.  And as I look around at the mess of books and papers and the tea stained bottom of my white coffee mug on the borrowed honey colored desk, I honestly don’t know what the “right” school is.  I don’t know what the future holds. At present, I’m more focused on finding the knowledge that my textbooks hold. And they tend to give me even more questions than before. But one thing I know for certain is this:  I am so glad I took the leap and became a counselor.

And now even in these uncertain times, you should take the leap too. Kennolyn is still hiring and planning a summer to remember.

Written by long time camper and staff member 2019, 2020

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