Canoes on the waterfront

How I decided to apply for Summer Camp USA

In late 2014, I found myself at a turning point. I hated my job. I needed a fresh start. I wanted a change.

I never expected to go to America. I had certainly never wanted to go to America. My dream was always to head to the UK.

But life happens and plans change, and less than a year later I found myself working as a windsurfing instructor for an all-girls summer camp in Michigan, USA.

I learnt that you’ve got to be flexible. Don’t hold yourself to plans that ‘old you’ made. Things happen that you cannot possibly predict. Be your best self, make your best decisions, and don’t be too hard on yourself when you make mistakes.

Also, the universe has more in store for you than you think. And it pays to remember that she’s got all the control.

So. I was stuck in a rut, unhappy and knew that I needed to get myself out. I decided to start making choices based on what I wanted out of life, and not on what others expected of me (this was one of my big a-ha moments).

For me, that meant I was going to travel. By myself. Now I just needed to figure out how.

Full camp photo at Camp Newaygo

Weighing up my options

I brainstormed and researched and created a huge A3 table with the pros and cons of all my options, including volunteering abroad, work visas in the UK, teaching English overseas, and Summer Camp USA.

I would definitely recommend weighing up all your options against your goals and what is important to you. Look into how much each of these cost, how long you will be away for, and what you get out of them. By outlining the pros and cons you are more likely to find the best option for you. For myself at the time, and the phase of life I was in, Summer Camp USA turned out to be the best match.

Summer Camp USA vs. Camp America

Now, we’ve got to get this straight right off the bat. Summer Camp USA is not Camp America. They are run by different companies and operate very differently. I highly recommend Summer Camp USA. They treat you well, everything is up front and you get paid WAY better. I heard some horror stories from my fellow camp counsellors who chose to go with Camp America.

As a bit of background info, Summer Camp USA is run by International Exchange Programs (IEP for short). They are an amazing company who give young New Zealanders incredible opportunities to live and work overseas. They have a huge range of programs in different destinations to satisfy any traveller, so definitely check them out.

Summer camp appealed to me at the time because it was a complete change of gear, it got me out of the country, in the outdoors, working with kids, getting paid, meeting local Americans, and granted me with 30 days of travel throughout America. Another plus point was the program was only 4 months so I wasn’t completely abandoning my career, and it was one of the very few ways of travelling to America post university studies.

Camp Newaygo Sign

Application process

The application process for summer camp was super easy and also cost effective. At the time you only had to pay a single application fee around $100 and nothing else until you accepted a job position. Therefore, a job position was guaranteed before payment, that suits anybody who is feeling a bit tight on le moolah.

The one thing that I found disheartening in the entire process was the job-fair. I travelled up to Auckland for a day with a few hundred other applicants to talk with three American Summer Camps in the hopes that they would fall in love with me immediately and offer me a position on the spot.

On the day, I felt largely ignored. I am outgoing but tend to come out of my shell in smaller group situations, not in large open-market settings like the job fair. The meetings with the camps only went for a couple of minutes long, I felt like the camp directors were just going through the motions, and were looking for a counsellor that looked the part, rather than one with different skills or a cool personality.

At the end of the day, after lining up for hours and spending less than 10 minutes speaking with the camp directors, I left empty handed with no job prospects on the horizon, feeling like nobody wanted me, I wasn’t good enough or pretty enough and maybe summer camp wasn’t a good idea after all. Cry cry cry *violins in background*. I was gutted.

Marshallow paint wars

Application accepted

BUT! Like they say, it’s not over until the fat lady sings! Only three days later I was offered a camp counsellor position as a windsurfing instructor at an empowering all-girls camp in Newaygo, Michigan that used outdoor activities to fill the girls with confidence and encourage them to be their true selves. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven.

Reading those words “Buckle up, because you are headed to Camp Newaygo this summer (aka – the greatest camp in all the land” was the most exciting moment I had experienced in such a long time. I was ecstatic. A camp wanted me! Little old me from the smallest corner of the world! And I could tell straight away that the camp was perfect!

In that moment I felt that all the tough decisions I had made to get to this stage were all worth it. Resigning from my job. Moving cities. Upending my life. Changing my path. It as all worth it because in that moment I felt like I was exactly where I needed to be.

Applying to Summer Camp USA was the best decision I could have made. I’ll be sharing more stories from my time at summer camp, including advice for being a camp counsellor, tips for travelling around America, and how to make the perfect s’more. If you’re thinking about applying then stay tuned for more!

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