Travel Confessions: USA camp counsellor Jessika Streat
A veteran of two gap years as a summer camp counsellor in Pennsylvania, uni student and Student Flights customer Jessika Streat can't get enough bonfire sing-a-longs, making 'smores and colour wars, signing on for a third year to be a camp counsellor with kids in the States. Here, she reveals all about happy campers and that one time at camp...
What inspired to you work at summer camps in the USA?
Since I can remember, I had always wanted to do a student exchange in the US. When I missed the cutoff date to apply in high school, I frantically began searching online for something similar. I wasn’t ready for uni and was desperate to get out of my hometown. When I came across the camp counsellor program, all I could imagine were the movies The Parent Trap and Camp Rock. I started my application soon after.
Did you arrange the job through an agency?
I went through a program called Camp America. They were amazing from the minute I applied to organising my visa, flights and even accommodation when I arrived in the States. I would recommend this program to anyone and wouldn’t go through anyone else.
Was it difficult getting the paperwork and visas arranged?
Not at all. It was a bit of a pain having to travel to Sydney, as there is no US embassy in Queensland. But other than that, the process was pretty simple. My second year visa was even easier.
Describe a typical day working as a camp counsellor.
There really wasn’t a ‘typical’ day at camp for me. From colour wars, theme park trips, hikes, water fights and camp fires to 4th of July fireworks, every day was so different and fun. At night in the bunks we would have spa nights, karaoke competitions, random dance parties and go star gazing. I lived in a bunk with 12 11-year-old girls and three co-counselors. Spending time with the kids was always a rewarding experience and we always tried to make their camp experience the best it could be.
What new skills did you learn in your job?
I went to camp straight out of high school, having never been away from home, and then found myself in the middle of New York City by myself! It was a very scary, crazy, exciting experience all at the same time, but it definitely helped me to grow as a person and become more independent. Through camp I learnt not only personal skills, but I was also trained to be an archery instructor and a high ropes instructor, which I can now use all over America.
Where have the camps you've been at been based in?
Both years I went to NJ Y Camps in Milford, Pennsylvania. When I first applied for the program, I was searching online for camps in California and New York, thinking that’s where I would be placed. I ended up in a town smaller than my hometown, which I was a bit hesitant about. However, my camp was only a couple of hours from the Jersey Shore, Philadelphia, Atlantic City and New York City. After my first day at camp, I knew I was going to have an amazing summer and here I am, two years later, applying for my third year.
Did you get to travel around the country at all?
Definitely! You get 30 days to travel the US after your work visa ends. Over the last two years, I have been lucky enough to travel to some amazing places. Because of the American friends I made at camp, I was able to stay with them at their colleges, which was an amazing experience. I got to stay in a college dorm in New Orleans and a sorority house in New York City! I went to Disneyland, Santa Monica and hiked the Hollywood Hills while in LA. I jumped off the Stratosphere building in Las Vegas. I saw Wicked on Broadway in New York City.
I rode the Maid of the Mist in Niagara Falls and ate buffalo wings in Buffalo. I went to the Country Music Festival and line-danced in Honky Tonks in Nashville, Tennessee. I walked down Beale Street, went inside Elvis’ house, and stayed at the Heartbreak Hotel in Memphis. Saw the Mississippi River in New Orleans. Went to Universal Studios in Orlando and hopped on a cruise to the Bahamas while in Miami!
Did you meet lots of new people?
I have met so many incredible people while at camp and made some lifelong friends. Because of camp, I now have friends in places like England, Israel, Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland, Canada, Argentina and, of course, America. I can’t wait to get over and visit them all soon.
What's your favourite memory from your time in the USA?
It’s honestly impossible to pick just one moment. I have been so incredibly lucky to experience what I have. If I had to sum it up though, my favourite part of America was definitely camp!
What was the biggest challenge you faced during your trip?
Leaving camp and saying goodbye to my campers and all the friends I’ve lived with for four months is always the hardest part of my trip.
What's the best advice you can offer to someone wanting to spend a summer in the USA as a camp counsellor?
Go for it! It was by far the best thing I have ever done and is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Who doesn’t want to be paid to travel and live in the United States, while making lifelong friends and memories? My camp's slogan is ‘Home Away From Home’ and that’s definitely what camp was for me!