The main lesson I learnt on camp, that nothing is embarrassing as long as you’re enjoying yourself whilst doing it
This time last year I was stressing out about A levels, attempting to balance out all of my revision and on top of that, trying to plan how I was going to spend the longest summer I’d potentially ever have. All of my friends were going inter-railing around Europe, something I really didn’t want to do, so I was very stuck on what to do for the almost 3 months off I had.
Someone suggested to me sign up with JCUSA and go and work at a camp in America. I signed up straight away, filled in all the forms, had my 2 interviews and training day and before I knew it I’d signed a contract to work on Surprise Lake Camp for 8 weeks.
I flew out there by myself the morning after my last A Level exam, and 7 hours later arrived in New York on a sleep-wake camp in the middle of the cold-spring mountains; sat in a room with hundreds of people I didn’t know yet were somehow promised that by the end of summer, they’d end up being my “camp family”.
If I’m really honest I didn’t put much thought into signing up; 9 weeks in New York for me sounded like heaven, yet after 9 days of non-stop training before the kids arrived, it finally hit me what a huge responsibility I was about to have – this was really scary for me. One morning during staff week we got told at lunch that we all had to go to our bunks, pack a bag for a hike and overnight stay on top of the mountains. I was dreading it. I tried every excuse in the book to try and get out of it; ranging from homesickness to jet lag to ‘I feel really ill’ … I felt like a camper. Annoyed and angry I walked up the mountain, carrying my sleeping bag and yoga mat that would serve as my bed for the night and prepare for what I thought would be a very uncomfortable and unenjoyable night.
To this day, that overnight camp turned out to be one of the best and most memorable nights I’ve ever had. I sat up for hours talking to people from all over the world. I heard the most amazing stories ranging from an Australian hiking in the outback, Israeli IDF soldiers sharing their toughest experiences, to hearing what a classic American frat party entails. I stared friendships with people that I now speak to everyday.
Once the kids came camp life really kicked in. The 8:30 am to 9:30 pm day entailed leading kids on a whole bunch of activities. Every type of sport you can think of, drama, dance, boating, trips to water parks – Surprise Lake Camp did it all. Although the friendships I made with other staff members were a key highlight, the relationship you form with your campers make the summer really special. The first 4 weeks of camp I was in charge of 7-8 year olds, and for the second 4 weeks, 10 year olds. At such a young age it can be really hard for the kids to be away from home for so long, so they really rely on you as a figure to look up to, someone to talk to when their low or come running to when they have good news. You really become a role model for them. I’ll never forget what I came back to camp after my first day off, as I walked into the dining call to get a drink I was trying to hide my face from my group so I didn’t distract them from dinner. Seconds later the kids all came running up to me, hugging and jumping on me, wanting to hear all about my day off… what I did, what I bought and having to solemnly swear to them that I’d never leave them for a whole day again.
On these days off, only being an hour train journey from the heart of New York, I got to explore Times Square, Soho, Brooklyn and fulfil my dream of seeing a Broadway show.
I’ve never defined myself as particularly religious, yet if I had a day off on a Friday I always made sure that I’d be back for Shabbat, or not go out until the service had finished. Shabbat on camp was truly one of the most amazing things I’ve witnessed. At first, I was hesitant to join in with all the singing; I didn’t want to embarrass myself. I sat there quietly taking it all in yet not having the confidence to stand up dancing like all the other staff members. But once the kids came, I realised I couldn’t be like this – if a camper saw me sat there quietly and uninvolved, they’d do the same. So, I had to suck it up, stand up and join in – hands clapping, arms waving, dancing, doing whatever to show the kids it’s not embarrassing to have fun. And that’s the main lesson I learnt on camp, that nothing is embarrassing as long as you’re enjoying yourself whilst doing it.
Going on camp just before starting university was the best thing I could’ve possibly done. It helped me jump out of my comfort zone, forced me to make a whole bunch of new friends, and allowed me to grow as a person and as a member of the Jewish community. On the last day of camp we all sat in the same room together that we arrived in on the first day; it was mad to think that just 8 weeks before we were all strangers, but I finally understood what they meant by ‘camp family’.
Surprise Lake Camp enabled me to have the best summer of my life and I’m honestly counting down the days until I’m back there in summer next year. I couldn’t recommend more signing up with JCUSA and seeing where this summer takes you. Whatever camp you go on, you’ll come out a better person and won’t look back.