For those of us brought up in the UK or elsewhere outside the States, it is hard to really understand what a big deal Summer camp actually is. Schools in the USA have incredibly long summer holidays and these summer get togethers are taken very seriously and can last up to three months in some cases. And, as a result, there are lots of job opportunities available, which can range from camp counsellor to maintenance to hospitality.
"You'll be the person campers come to first, you are their summer mother or father, big sister or big brother."
Counsellors are probably the most sought after jobs, and these involve both teaching and pastoral care of the children. It helps to be extrovert, lively and up, or at least be able to appear to be! Being able to teach a skill also helps, so if you are skilled (and qualified) in anything from archery to sailing, you have a head start. But each camp, and indeed programme, is different. For instance, some specify that you need to be full time students to be eligible, and other do not.
If you are looking for a holiday where you can have a night off relaxing over some drinks, this might not be for you. First off, you may well be living in tents in the great outdoors, and all that entails (weather, bugs etc!). Secondly, youll be around children, and the camps take that very seriously (youll need to be CRB checked .i.e. checked by the Criminal Records Bureau, too). And, thirdly, as the legal drinking age is 21 in the States, it is quite possible that you wont even be able to buy the stuff if you are underage!
Wild Packs stress that being a camp counselor is probably the toughest job on summer camp: You are expected to participate in every activity your kids are signed up for and it is your responsibility to get your kids to meals times and their assigned activity periods on time. Whilst you will still be supported by other staff in the bunk, you will be the person the campers come to first. You are their summer mother or father, big sister or big brother. (www.wildpacks.com)
Not all camps are US based
You will also find some in Russia, Croatia and Canada, for instance. Camp Counselors USA (www.ccusa.co.uk ) run camp fairs in Leeds, Manchester and London each January, which are a great opportunity to meet American camp directors face to face, take part in a brief eligibility interview and, most important, ask people who have already been there and done it about their own experiences. You could even walk away with a job!
Diane Blything, 25, is now a CCUSA rep who has done two summer camps in Michigan and two in Iowa. She had this to say about the experience and who it might suit:
"The job can be tiring but the the rewards of meeting a huge range of people, both children and staff, the whole camp environment and the travel you get to do afterwards more than make up for it."
If you're thinking about being a camp counsellor you'll need to be enthusiastic, sporty, happy, eager to try new things and not afraid to make a fool of yourself. You'll also be living out in the woods so obviously, youll need to be comfortable with that! The job does have its lows. It can be hard and tiring work and some people do get homesick, but the the rewards of meeting a huge range of people, both children and staff, the whole camp environment and the travel you get to do afterwards more than make up for it.
When you are applying it is good to emphasise any personal experience you have of working with children, and sporting skills. Also, if you are studying something relevant like drama, sports science, arts and crafts or child psychology, make that clear.
Camps are typically nine weeks long, and theres time for independent travel afterwards. CCUSA do have camps in other countries that follow the US model. I havent experienced these first hand, but I do know that you are placed with other English speakers so that you are not the only English speaker there.
Dianes last point is an important one. If you are planning on a summer camp in a country which doesnt speak your native language, do check whether there will be other people from your country there, as, otherwise, if could be quite a lonely experience.
Other sites to look at are Camp Leaders (http://www.campleaders.com/), Gap 360 (www.gap360.com) and The Best Gap Year ( www.bestgapyear.co.uk).
Hospitality and support staff
A support job might be for you if you think youll like the camp atmosphere but dont want to be responsible for children all of the time. Just like a counsellor, you will be living and working in the outdoors and youll probably have to get up even earlier as youll need to prepare breakfasts for staff and children. Although, as support staff you may be more likely to be living in a cabin rather than a tent.
"Take part in all the activities, without the hassle of running or organising them!"
The big upside though is that in between meals or shifts you will have time to enjoy as you like, and can even take part in all the activities, without the hassle of running or organising them!
But you dont have to be good with food. There are plenty of other positions available in camp for cleaners, office workers, laundry workers, handymen, security guards and drivers.
Knowledge of experience of your chosen area is helpful, and some experience with children is always preferred. A minimum age of 18 is required.
Season Workers (www.seasonworkers.com) is a good starting place to look for a summer camp hospitality post, as is the Wild Packs (www.wildpacks.com).