I never dreamt about visiting the USA. I never liked the idea of going to a country where the gun possession is legal, and I was always afraid of going there because of the hurricanes. But, in 2011 everything has changed, when I decided to apply for a Work and Travel programe with Camp Leaders. Actually, my friend participated and she told me so good stories and shared photos about her trip – and she even invited to the Camp Leaders party which was held after the summer. That party gave me the last hit to apply for the program, as I saw so many happy people with great memories from their summer.
So, in October, 2011 I decided to apply for a program which helped me to find a summer camp to work for during the summer. Originally my friend offered me to take me to her camp, but there were so many missunderstandings between us, so eventually a stranger invited me to her camp and she took me there. This really described the friendship between my “friend” and me, so since this time I don’t really talk to her. I’m not angry at her, I just don’t try to contact her – she neither, but I don’t think that I was the wrong one in this situation. For me it was weird that a stranger would rather try to get me to her camp than my friend, therefore not I’m the one who should say sorry. Anyway!
Camp Leaders can be found in several countries, in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and South America as well. But you can try Camp America and CCUSA as well, they are totally similar organizations to go with to a summer camp. And I’m sure there are many other options.
In a summer camp you can work either as a camp counselor or a support staff. Some countries, especially the developed ones can apply for a counselors only, but some countries’ residents can work as a support staff (kitchen, maintainance…). As I’m not that fan of children – OK, I like them, but not being with them for 24 hours a day – I decided to apply for a support staff position. Not to mention, the salary is also higher for them. I don’t think you should decide just because of the salary, because a support staff probably works more (in most camps the kitchen staff works around 12 hours a day). A counselor should be with the kids for 24 hours, but their trips are covered wherever the groups go. Sometimes I really felt that I’d rather be with the kids, but to go to some beautiful places!
This Work and Travel program is built for mainly university students, but you should check your country’s visa regulations. For example, in Hungary we must be an university student if we want to apply for as a support staff, but the student status is not required for the counselor position. However, we need to prove that we will return back to Hungary for work or study purposes.
The camps are usually 9-10 weeks long, but ours is 8 weeks only. Afterwards the Work and Travel program participants can travel in the USA for a month, but this is not compulsory.
In January, 2012, I got a call from Camp Leaders and they told me there is a girl who is looking for someone to the kitchen. I was very happy, as they rated my English pretty poor, I was underage, I was a girl, and my starting date was pretty late. These made my situation worse, so of course I wanted to talk to the girl on the phone – eventually, Tündi, the girl decided to take me to the camp! I was very happy, and I though I will have a nice summer in the USA. Since that time, I went back to the same camp 4 more times! 😀 So, where did I stay?
My home for the summers was Camp Kinderland, which is located in the border of Massachusetts and Connecticut nearby a (ghost – seriously, I haven’t seen any people there during my 5 summers!) town, called Tolland. It’s a very small camp organized in 1923 by a Jews family. It’s not that typical Jews camp, so we didn’t cook according to kosher, and we didn’t follow any Jews traditions. Nowadays the camp teaches equality for campers between the age of 8 and 16. We are about 200 all together.
I worked in the kitchen, I started as a dishwasher, and I did general kitchen. In my 2nd and 3rd year I was responsible for making desserts and decorating the birthday cakes. In my 4th and 5th year I was in the salad bar, where I was almost my own boss deciding how much vegetables and fruits I need to cut to the salad bar. Sometimes I loved it, sometimes I hated it. I loved it, because noone told me what to do, the head chef trusted in me, but I hated it, because I was missed from all kind of jokings in the kitchen.
Ohh, yes, in the USA people are more flexible and open-minded, and it’s the same for working. They don’t become nervous is something bad happens, and it’s because of the cultural difference. In Hungary, if you are late from your job, or if you do something bad, you cannot expect anything good, you can be even fired. Although we realized that in the USA we can be a little more flexible as well, we didn’t do that. In my opinion this was the reason why so many employees in the camp love the Hungarians. Unfortunately in the 5th year there were too many Hungarians (6), and we showed our bad side – if we’re too many, we create a group of clicks. So, in this summer there was a guy who made a lot of bad comments on everyone, especially me – I guess he saw a possible competor in me, but I have no idea why… if I don’t like someone I try not to talk to him/her, but he did the opposite: he tried to make me angry several times. He wasn’t so beloved in the camp to be honest. Anyway!
So, talking about the Hungarians… in our camp there were some nationalities, but I realized that other camps hired people from more countries (OK, those are also bigger camps). Most people at our camp were American citizens, but above Hungarians we had people from France, England, Somalia, and one year from Austria. They were all counselors, so we didn’t hang out that much, except for the Austrians – they were pretty awesome! For hanging out there was a recreation hall, where the employees could hang out in the evening. They can play board games, table tennis, pool, table soccer, and many other games, while someone cooks some easy foods, mostly quesadillas.
Our living conditions were perfect! In most camps the employees need to share rooms with a lot of people, and I have already talked to someone whose room was next to the campers – and she wasn’t even a counselor. Of course, if you’re a counselor you sleep with the kids. Our support staff members had their own houses, and I think the kitchen staff in our camp had the best housing arrangements. In a house there was 2-2 rooms in each side, every 2 rooms had a bathroom. We shared the room, we were 2 in there in most years. The maintainance guys got their own room a few years ago, but they weren’t in the nices building though.
Our camp was in the nature, far from any big cities (New York and Boston were 3-4 hours far actually). I didn’t mind that, although sometimes it was really bad when everyone went out, but we needed to stay in the camp, because we couldn’t catch a bus in front of the gate and go to the city. We had a very beautiful lake and with a beautiful forest, and, we also had a reservoir nearby us, where we made some trips, when we had more free time.
We also have a river, where I usually went to hike, sit down and listen the sounds of the nature. There were several animals as well of course. Ants, mosquitoes, flies, mice are basic in my opinion. There were 100 species of spiders at least, from the small one to the size of wolf spider. One year I kicked it when I went to the bathroom, I was shouting like hell. 😀 It was 11 PM… On the next day one of the girls asked me what happened, because she though I was about to be killed – well, thanks for checking then! 😀 We had a lot of porcupines, rabbits, lizards, beavers, chipmunks, gooses, black bears (ohh, so many ruined trash cans!), owls, racoons… and the camp driver took a photo of a moose as well. Ohh, and I almost forgot to mention the camp’s cats and dogs!
Unlike in other camps, the Visiting Day in our camp was pretty nice for the kitchen staff. In other camps staffs work a lot, as they feed the kids, their parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, pets and… all in all, everyone. But, in our camp, the visitors do piknik! Therefore we need to make breakfast only and we’re free during the day and we can do whatever we want. But we’re kinda stuck, as we cannot go out anywhere, and we cannot move freely in the camp because of the so many people. In these days we usually go out to hike in the forest.
There was an other day which I loved: the day when some groups go to an amusement park, called Lake Compounce, spend there the whole day and go to have dinner in a Chinese buffet. Support staffs are also invited, and of course we joined every year! So much fun and so much food! Above this there are some other activities where we’re invited to, and we usually join, like circus, cinema, ice cream place (it’s so adorable, it’s in a farm with so many animals! This is also one of my favourite activity)
To be honest the camp life is not for me anymore. I’m 25 years old already, and I often felt that the employees are too young. Most counselors are 17 years old, and somehow I cannot find any mutual topics. I nor liked the monotonous life, that I did the same everyday and I saw the same people everyday. But I loved going back because of the calm life (what do you think, how many times did I think about money, food and accommodation? All of them were provided), I loved the nature, and the people were very kind. In this world there are many people who don’t like their bosses, but actually I call my camp manager my camp mum. She’s an adorable person, who knew me like her daughter and I could share everything with her. I will never remember those times when we held chat parties during the evening, cheese parties with so many kind of cheese (OOOOH, CHEESES!! – sounds so good, no? :D) and ice cream parties when noone saw us.
I really hope I will have the chance to return to Camp Kinderland, either as a worker or a visitor.