Travel Confessions: Eleni Laskaris Gap Year as a Summer Camp Counselor in Maine
Read all about the high with very little lows of being a Summer Camp counselor in the USA. While Eleni doesn’t specifically mention eating s’mores and ‘kumbaya’ sing-alongs by the campfire, we’re going to assume they’re a given!
What attracted you to the USA for a Gap Year as opposed to the more traditional UK options?
I always wanted to be a camp counselor, I think ever since watching The Parent Trap. I was looking for something with more variety, so being a camp counselor allowed me to work and then travel afterwards. I was also an Au Pair in Italy beforehand, which was something I had wanted to do too. However since returning, I have learnt that there are plenty of opportunities to travel if you choose a traditional UK option. It sounds silly but I also knew the weather would be better in the USA!
Did you arrange the job through an agency, if so, which one?
Yes, I arranged the job through Camp America. I found most Camp Directors find their international staff through Camp America or CCUSA. The agencies help you with visa, getting to camp and I also was able to find and chat to the some of the other international staff that were going to the same camp.
Was it difficult getting the paperwork and visas arranged?
I actually have dual citizenship with the USA so didn’t have to apply for a visa however I believe it is easily done through the agencies.
Describe typical day working as a Camp Counselor?
The day started at 7.30am and you had to wake your cabin up and head to Chapel and then Flag. In Chapel the ‘cabin of the day’ recited a quote they had prepared and staff gave any announcements for the day. Flag was just the raising of the USA flag and everyone singing some camp songs before breakfast.
The day was divided into five periods, two before lunch, two after lunch and one after dinner. As a counselor this is when you teach a certain activity or skill to the campers. Just like high school you generally teach a variety of lessons throughout the day. Most Australians are hired for the waterfront so I predominately taught swimming lessons, body boarding and kayaking. I helped out with lifeguarding, low ropes and sometimes sports. After lunch there was also a rest period and free time. Rest period was just quiet time in your cabin and during free time, counselors either lifeguarded or were supervising elsewhere.
The day ended with an evening activity involving the whole camp. On Thursdays it was always a disco, which all the campers loved, other evening activities included talent shows, zombie apocalypse games, capture the flag and scavenger hunts. After lights out, it was staff time, which always included a staff snack and was a chance to all hang out, head into town or call/email home. Once a week however you and another counselor would have to be ‘On Duty’ for if the campers needed anything after lights out.
Once a week you also had 24 hours off which was a great opportunity to explore the local area or head to another counselors house for some nice down time and a home cooked meal!
What new skills did you learn in your job?
I learnt how to work with kids and a variety of different people, problem resolution skills and resilience.
How would you describe Maine to someone who's never been?
Maine (New England) is beautiful. There are lots of lakes, forests and mountains. It’s the landscape that makes it unique. It has a few beaches too, but they don’t even compare to Australia.
Did you get to travel around the rest of the country at all?
I travelled to Canada straight after camp with other counselors and then did a Trek America tour from New York to Miami. Trek America was a great tour and I enjoyed travelling to some of the more southern states. Some of the highlights of the trip included white water rafting in West Virginia, Mardi Gras in New Orleans and jet skiing and swimming with Dolphins in Panama City.
Did you meet lots of new people?
I met lots of great people both at camp and on the tour. I am still in contact with a lot of them and have even seen them since leaving camp. The American counselors were so accommodating, taking you under their wing and offering up their houses and showing you around.
What's your favourite memory from your time in the USA?
I absolutely loved the whole camp experience. A fond memory would be when my best friend (who I met at camp) had a bad day and to make her feel better we ran and jumped in the lake with all our clothes on.
Another great memory was when there was an evening activity, which involved the campers dressing up as a counselor and imitating them. The girls in my cabin dressed up as myself, which was hilarious to watch, and was nice to know you had made a positive impact on them.
In one of the first weeks, my co-counselor and I decided to scare our campers after lights out because they were being too noisy. We went outside the window and made rustling noises and tapped on the window. They were all very quiet after that!
What was the biggest challenge you faced during your trip?
Being a camp counselor is a 24/7 job so sometimes it could get a little overwhelming and you often have little time to yourself but you learn to deal with your emotions, being around amazing people helps.
What's the best advice you can offer to someone wanting to spend a summer in the USA as a camp counselor?
Just Do It. Don’t worry if your camp is big or small or where it is. No matter what, you will get camp experience and have the best summer.