When those long university summers are ahead of you, you may be asking yourself how you should fill your time. Maybe you live in a rural area where job opportunities are few and far between or maybe an internship with a big company isn’t quite up your street. One of the jobs that is always open for hiring is a camp counsellor. It might seem like a rite of passage to get a J1 and skive off to the States for the summer but here are some reasons why being a camp counsellor shouldn’t be overlooked as a way to build skills that will serve you a lifetime.
To start as a camp counsellor, you will most likely be going abroad whether to another continent or another European country. This shows that you are willing to go to a new country with a different culture and social codes. You can’t just pop on a bus and go home if the going gets tough. It shows you are willing to put yourself out of your comfort zone and try something new.
As if being in a new environment weren’t enough, the camp counsellor environment one that is always changing. Be it new campers or new staff, every day can throw a curveball. If it rains but you had prepped for a big game outside you need to have a solid plan B. You finish an activity with half an hour to go, you need a filler-game up your sleeve. The campers don’t like the activity, you need to switch it up. You need to be on your toes and prepared for anything.
You are living and working with people you may have never met before and who are from different countries. You need to find common ground and build relationships with the people you work with quickly so that you can work as a team and have each other’s backs. At camp, lots of different personalities come together and you need to be able to collaborate with everyone.
You also need to build a relationship with the campers from the get-go. You have to make compromises permanently, accept that things won’t always be done the way you would like it and trust the people around you. You get good at making small talk and when it’s needed, skipping it and going to what’s important. When a camper is upset or homesick you are there to support them and unfortunately, they don’t come with a manual, so you have to figure out how best to comfort them.
Working under stress
I’m not going to butter it up, being a camp counsellor is hard work. You work long days without regular rest, you never get as much sleep as you need, and you are on your feet all day. You give your all day in day out and sometimes things don’t go to plan, but you need to move on and start the next day afresh. This job proves that you are willing to get your hands dirty, take initiative, be involved, make a fool of yourself and remain professional under any circumstances. You have to set priorities and often wish you were an octopus but somehow you make do with just two hands. If you can do this, then you are well set for most other demanding jobs.
From the minute those campers set eyes on you, you are their leader and their role-model. You are the one that makes sure you stay on schedule, that rules are followed while organising and leading activities. You have to lead by example at all times. If you don’t follow the rules, then why should they? You become a role-model in all areas of life including but not limited to your behaviour, language, punctuality and tidiness. I was never the kind of person to be a leader in group projects or talk up in class but suddenly I was faced with a large group of campers and I was the one in charge, making decisions and responsible for their welfare. Having this chance helped me grow and be more confident in my beliefs and decisions.
This skill is key for any future job. You will not only be standing up explaining what you are going to do that day or the rules of the game but also listening and understanding what a camper is trying to tell you. You will also be filling out reports about any incidents, lesson and activity plans, or reports for parents at the end of the session. Communication is also key for teamwork running smoothly. Expressing yourself clearly and making sure that you are understood or understand what others mean is essential.
At the evening meeting you will be reflecting on the day, both the good and the bad. As a team you will think about what went well and why and what could have gone better. You will always be looking to make improvements and developing this self-reflective practice is useful not only in job settings but also in life. You also become more resilient in the face of criticism or failure. Things won’t always work out and this isn’t always in your control. One group may love the activity and with another it might be a total flop. Having the ability to keep on going even if there has been a disaster is another skill that you will have for life.
I hope I have shown you that being a camp counsellor isn’t just an amazing way to get to travel, meet new people and make close friends but also leaves you with a skill set that can be used in just about any future jobs. It’s an experience of a lifetime and one I recommend to everyone!