More Than a Great Summer

May 2016

I had been a camper at Cape Cod Sea Camps (CCSC) in Brewster, Massachusetts, from age 12 to 17, when I graduated from CCSC’s Junior Counselor Teen Leadership Program. Those summers at camp were some of the best of my life. Camp was where I made the strongest friendships, laughed the hardest, and felt the most at home in a place where I was not with my whole family. And this admiration for camp only intensified during the summer that I began to work as a camp counselor. I thought my camp-induced happiness had peaked during my years as a camper; yet, I can truly say my summer as a camp counselor was the best summer ever.

Being a camp counselor is a unique job in that you are allowed to completely take advantage of the facilities and opportunities around you, feeling almost as if you are the camper, while also having the hefty responsibility of being fully accountable for your campers’ safety and general happiness. This responsibility for other people’s children is incomparable to the responsibility of completing a homework assignment or a task delegated at an office internship. To be successful as a camp counselor, one must learn the balance of being an authority figure and a friend, a comforting shoulder and an instructor. A camp counselor must understand that he or she is around children in a distinctive environment, where these children are away from their parents and friends from home, which can be both liberating and frightening to them. These children have the ability to re-create themselves, to express themselves in a way they may feel nervous to do at home. A camp counselor must be able to support and encourage campers so they know they are appreciated for their truest selves, whoever that may be. Taking the place of a parent at camp can be a daunting task to a college kid, but learning how to deal with other people of all ages, from all walks of life, 24 hours a day, is one of the most important lessons I have ever learned. Trying to get campers to follow all the rules and to listen to you is no small task, but learning how to adjust your behavior according to that of your campers, to realize when they need someone to talk to or when they are silently begging for guidance is worth all of the difficulty. The challenge of being responsible for others teaches one how to persevere despite obstacles, as highs and lows when dealing with other people are inevitable.

Many believe being a camp counselor is a “waste of a summer,” one that could be spent interning on Wall Street or shadowing a doctor at a hospital. These people fail to realize that to excel in any future career, one must first develop the social skills to interact with others in the most beneficial way possible. No one goes through life alone, especially not in a profession where people are constantly leaning on each other in times of need and in times of communal productivity. As a camp counselor, one is forced to deal with being in charge of others and having others in charge of you. Your task is to ensure your campers have the best summer ever, dealing with them at their worst, at your worst, and at their and your best. There is no better way to strengthen your character in a way that allows you to connect with others and pick up on their unspoken cues than at camp, where everything is based on social interaction. Being a camp counselor teaches self-discipline and willpower like no internship can. If you fail to live up to the expectations for which you were hired, you put the well-being of another human at stake, not just a business transaction. It may feel easy to give up or take the easy way out when your job is filing papers, leaving you with the belief that you can always cut corners and fall short at future jobs. Yet, this is not an option as a camp counselor, an “internship” where you have to complete every task assigned to you to exhaustion, strengthening your determination and raising the standards you set for yourself in a way that will enhance not only all occupations to come, but all general life-tasks in your future that require strength of will.

I would be lying if I said I woke up every morning of those eight weeks with a smile on my face. That being said, being a camp counselor truly was the best job of my life. Being outdoors in the sunshine and warmth for 12-plus hours a day is not only good for a tan, it’s good for the soul. To be honest, you basically get paid to have an amazing summer in an amazing place surrounded by amazing people. No internship can top that. You will never regret spending a summer as a camp counselor. But you might regret spending your summer in a tiny office cubicle surrounded by people who only talk to you when they want a coffee or need their dry-cleaning picked up.

Photo courtesy of Cape Cod Sea Camps, Barnstable, Massachusetts.

Madeleine McArdle was raised in Chicago, Illinois, and is currently a sophomore at Dartmouth College. She is majoring in Sociology modified with English, and also following the Pre-Health track, as she aspires to become a trauma surgeon. Madeleine is a member of the Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE) National Advisory Board and additionally participates on CARE’s Student Advisory Council.