When someone scans your items at the supermarket or brings your food at a restaurant, it is an easy assumption that those people are simply doing their jobs; it’s rare to find someone who is passionate about scanning groceries or low-level work in the food service industry. When it comes to the job of camp counseling, most would probably assume the same thing: it’s just the means to a paycheck. For some that may be true, but for many, myself included, the paycheck is not the ends, rather, it is merely a way to justify spending two months at camp to those who “don’t get camp.” Being a camp counselor is considerably closer to be a camper than it is to any sort of job.
I have a bit of a reputation at camp as being “one of the campers,” and while that primarily comes from my love of running around like a maniac and laughing at silly jokes, I’d like to propose that the parallels run deeper than a sense of humor and level of energy, and also that it’s not just me who is “one of the campers,” it is all of us. After talking to quite a large number of campers and counselors, the motif of camp being an “escape” oft crops up in conversation. Whether it is a thirteen year-old coming to terms with themselves as they navigate the challenges of middle school or a twenty year-old coming to terms with the world around them as they navigate the challenges of college and the work world, camp serves as an escape from the constant barrage of obstacles encountered in most walks of life. There are few times in life where a brief reprieve is not a nice change of pace.
During the camp day, campers are given opportunities to play sports they like, participate in art activities, or even work in the performing arts. The same way that the kids really enjoy the opportunity to improve their skills and show them off, the counselors who have already spent years working on those skills are given the chance to pass both their knowledge and passion onto a younger generation. Some of the greatest joy I’ve ever felt at camp was seeing the look of excitement and wonder on a nine year-old girl’s face after she saw the lines of simple code she had just learned how to write transform into a website in front of her eyes. When your passion for an activity is so large, you tend to get more joy from teaching what you know to a blank slate than learning more.
Generally speaking, it’s the role of the counselor to teach and the role of the camper to learn, role reversal is very possible. Counselors can learn a lot from campers both directly and indirectly. Indirectly, I have learned a lot about myself and how my experiences have shaped me by observing campers and talking to them about experiences they have had have shaped them, and directly, I have simply learned a lot from campers. I do not have the opportunity to play as many video games or read as many comics as I once did, but a lot of the campers I see around a lot are very keen on keeping up to date with those mediums. Just this summer, I’ve started sacrificing naps during my off periods so the campers can teach me how to play a trading card game that they want me to run a tournament for; truth be told, it actually is a really fun game, expect another post on that at some point. Last summer I came to camp not knowing what to expect, and this summer is not that different. The basic job description may be the same, but I am not, the kids are not, and the glums and glows of the summer are never predictable.