What it’s actually like to work at an American summer camp
It’s not exactly like The Parent Trap
American sleep-away camps are like an episode of sun, sex and suspicious parents (just without the parents). While the kids are awake it’s all smiles and Kumbayah around the camp fire, but as night falls and you’ve wrestled 20 12-year-olds into their bunks, it is a very different place indeed.
There’s a lot more to an American summer camp than you might think, its not just Oreos and Peanut butter.
You’ll eat food you never thought could exist
Okay, so yes there will be Oreos, and a tonne of them; mint, strawberry, red velvet, pb&j, double stuff, thins, you name it. You’ll never want to see an Oreo again.
In fact, there’s a lot of things you may consider novelty that you now wouldn’t poke with a 50-foot stick. The worst is French toast – no longer can you chow down on Patisserie Valerie french toast when you’ve spent nine weeks struggling to swallow some shameful excuse for the stuff.
Hook up culture is religion
It’s the heat I swear. Not only is it the norm to hook up with someone you met 12 hours ago on a flight to JFK but it’s the norm to hook up with them anywhere. Tree houses, theatres, and gyms are all fair game.
Counsellors aren’t afraid to get creative, someone once carried a mattress through the forest into the football field just to get busy. No matter what camp you’re at there is always a code for hooking up, ranging from “do you want to go star gazing?” to “let’s go for a shabbat walk”.
Despite being as incestuous as an episode of MIC, camps are also great for creating post-camp relationships. If you go all the way and get married for a small sum (of a few hundred dollars) you can even get your own commemorative tree stump.
Your mate from the home counties doesn’t seem so rich anymore
Camp isn’t cheap itself, for campers fees are around $9000. For non-US counsellors using an agency you’re looking at £500 for fees, dolla to spend while you’re there, and not to mention all the clothes, toiletries and the Go Pro you buy beforehand. But you’ll never think that mate from the home countries is rich again after watching a group of parents swoop in on their helicopter or water plane (both have happened).
Name tags are the norm
At camp it’s completely normal for camp kids to have monogrammed everything, and I mean everything, including clothes, bedding, suitcases, stickers. You can never escape camp. You’ll be pulling *insert American name here* stickers out your laundry for months.
You’ll struggle to be as chirpy as them
When it comes down to it, Brits are all introverts next to Americans. Key stage 3 drama lessons can’t prepare you for the amount of pep you have to bring to camp 24/7. Camps have chants for everything cos there’s no way you’d win colour wars on your neon tutus and doodley-boppers alone.
To be honest the camp fire tunes are pretty similar to what you’d expect from a gruelling Girl Guides/Boy Scouts expedition on the Moors, meaning that there’s always that one person who thinks they’re Beyonce but they can’t sing for shit. If you can’t think of someone like this then chances are it’s probably you.
Say bye to your iPhone
Camp is also rehab for a smart phone junkie. If you’re lucky enough to have access to your phone, lack of service and having to share a wifi network with 800 odd people makes it pretty limited. You’ll live for your days off in the city to use Starbucks wifi and you’ll thank god for there being a branch on every corner.
However, not having your phone means that your entertainment is the camp drama: who’s hooking up with who, who got fired, which camper’s parents own Walmart… if you think it you can gossip it.
You don’t need sleep anymore
Even though you can’t bare getting out of bed at 11 to make your 12pm lecture, you somehow manage to get by on four hours of sleep whilst working from 7am -10pm. That’s on a good day. If there’s a heatwave you’re screwed; not only are you unable to sleep, but neither are the kids. 16 prepubescent girls crying over the heat from the comfort of their fan-adorned bunks is the seventh circle of Dante’s Inferno. You’ll never forgive Virgin Atlantic’s weight allowance for making you leave your electric fan at home.
Your accent will change
Fact: You’ll speak like a toff or an American and you won’t know what’s worse. Anyone born beyond the Watford Gap finds themselves speaking in received pronunciation most of the time.
On the occasions where you don’t it’s because you’ve developed some Osbourne-esque transatlantic tone to help you say “water” because most kids will have no clue what you’re on about if you say it with a British accent. Americans understand a northern accent about as much as southerners understand a Geordie one.
If you’re fortunate enough to escape converging to received pronunciation, you’ll find yourself conforming to other British stereotypes. You’ll drink more tea than you know what’s good for you; even if you didn’t drink it at home (unlikely but those people exist). You’re incapable of attending breakfast without a Yorkshire Tea-teabag in hand, ready to show the Americans everything that is wrong with their sorry Lipton substitute.
You’ll probably never go to a red cup party
The bad news for some is that lots of camps have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to drinking and its something you commit to when you sign your contract. It’s not just if you’re under 21 either, you could be 45 and still not allowed to drink, even on your days off.
Now if you don’t have one of these you’re in for a real disappointment – you’ve been waiting your entire life to go to a red solo cup party but in reality it’s a bunch of senior year kids who’ve never been drunk before throwing up over themselves.
In spite of all the drama, the sacrifices you’ll have to make to go, the lack of good food, technology and basic hygiene, it’s worth it. When you touch down at Heathrow you’ll be a better person: a pro-marshmallow toaster, king of all water sports and the most inappropriate at Cards Against Humanity.
And as much as you say that you will never go back, three years later you’ll be sat in a coffee shop filling out your application for a third time.