An International’s Insight into Camp Louise
We asked Rachael Fenwick, a counselor from the UK who has worked at Camp Louise the past two summers, to describe her first year at camp. Rach is a Unit A counselor, Multimedia Staff member, and making circle (3 years as a staff member)* this year!
My First Year at Camp Louise
By Rachael Fenwick (also known as Rach, also known as Fen, also known as Big Beaver)
So, imagine this: it was an extremely cold winters day, January 24th 2012 to be exact. I had begged one of my close friends to drive me 3 and a half hours from my home, so I could attend a recruitment fair for camp directors, held in Manchester, England. We’ll skip the car journey, it was pretty boring. I walked into a HUGE room, filled with at least 40 different camp representatives from all over the wonderful USA. But I only had one camp in mind; Camp Louise. I headed over to the table, where Shira Kahan (former assistant director and camp legend) kindly introduced herself, and we got down to business, talking about what I could offer Camp and why Shira should hire me for summer 2012. Obviously, Shira liked what I had to offer, and as I was handed the all important contract, signed and sealed, she gave me a hug, wished me a very safe journey home, and said that I would see her again in a few short months for the best summer of my life!
Skip to June 14th 2012. Stepping off the airplane after a long 7-hour flight from London to JFK, I was so excited to be finally on my way to camp. BUT HOLD ON A MINUTE! I still had a whole night in the wonderful city of New York, full of bright lights, dubbed, the city that never sleeps! I had been before, but it was a school trip, and we didn’t have much time to take it all in. Once I got to the hostel in the city, I dumped my bags and off I went, exploring, with a few other new internationals. Unfortunately, it was super late, like 1 am late, we had no idea where we were in relation to Times Square and we were convinced we were walking towards Harlem… Mission aborted.
After a ridiculously rubbish sleep, from the excitement of what my new journey would hold, I was up and on the bus to Camp Louise! It was an interesting ride down, the bus lost a tire, and it took us nearly 8 hours to get to camp, but it was still fun, and we all managed to catch up on some lost sleep! Coming up past Fort Richie, we were told we were almost at Camp, I began to feel somewhat nervous, not because I was fearful, but because I was finally about to see Camp Louise with my own eyes. I’d only seen a limited number of pictures, and obviously, I’d had a look at camp via Google Earth, but that didn’t really provide a great idea as to what Camp was really like.
We rode through the gates and up to the White House, and we disembarked the bus. Before I had a chance to breathe, I was pulled into a very friendly hug by my new department head, Amy. She seemed so thrilled to see me, and told me that I was going to LOVE working at camp this summer! I was so taken by her overt friendliness; it made me feel really welcome and appreciated – I knew that this summer was going to be fantastic, just after being in Camp for 1 minute!
We all checked in (loads of paper work and forms to sign) I felt like I was in a bit of a daze, but lets be real, that was probably from the jet lag! My Unit Leader, SJ, showed me to my bunk, where I was introduced to one of my co-counselor’s. It was so awkward at first- I didn’t know what to say except ‘Hi, I’m Rach’ but it was all right, because I don’t think she knew what to say either.
The next week was orientation, a time for all counselors to get to know each other and the in’s and out’s of camp. I struggled a little with some home missing, but that’s natural when you’ve never really been away from home or your parents before, especially in a completely different culture and country! As time went on I made friends, and I felt like I was settling in. We met the counselors at Camp Airy (the brother camp about 20 minutes away), we did loads of training and I learnt a lot in a very short space of time: the do’s and don’ts of camp, how to handle different situations and of course I got to grips with camp language. I mean who would actually know what a BFC* was if they didn’t go to camp? I also managed to conquer my fear of heights and went on the zip line – now that was some serious adrenaline for someone like me!
Orientation week flew by, and before I knew it, it was opening day! I was SO excited for my campers to arrive, I had never really had much experience with older girls before and I was looking forward to the challenge of giving them a great summer. One by one they all arrived at camp, and my first group of campers were a real bunch of characters! They all had their own little quirks that made them awesome, and it was great to see them have a great time being back with their friends and enjoying the camp lifestyle again. As the weeks went by I threw myself into department. I loved interacting and teaching all ages of campers different things about multimedia, and making silly videos to put into Film Fest*. By week two, I moved to a different unit, down to the youngest girls at camp. For those who know me, all of my experience is with kids aged 5 – 10 so I instantly felt right at ease. I felt sad to leave my first bunk behind, but they understood and I still got to see them almost every day around camp!
By week three I really felt like a part of camp, I had a great network of friends, and we all seemed to be having a blast! I loved my department and the work I was doing, so much so that one particularly stormy day, I was trapped in the white house through storm procedure*, but Amy really needed something I had. So I practically swam up hill to the building where Amy was (Don’t venture out during storm procedure – my shoes took 2 days to dry out…).
On one of our days off, another counselor, Sam, booked a hotel in Frederick, so we didn’t have to spend the night at camp, and we were free to do what we pleased. That night at the hotel had to be one of the funniest experiences of my life! Sam and Lizzie decided to take their laundry with them to wash at the hotel. Unfortunately, the dryers didn’t work so they had to hang up their wet laundry all over the room to dry out. We hid in a closet to scare Sam when she came out of the bathroom (funnier that what it sounds) and Lizzie may or may not have accidentally kicked a small dent into the wall. But most of all, it was so nice not having to sleep in the bunk or on the interestingly weird but wonderful egg crates we bought from Wal-Mart. The next day we hit up Wal-Mart where the “locals” were roaming the aisles (so surreal – I mean there was a horse and cart outside…) and we ate food that wasn’t camp food! YUM! We also went to see a movie. It’s so important to take some time out of camp during days off.
That very next week, it was time to say goodbye to the first session campers, they all had such a great time at camp, and it was kind of sad saying goodbye to the kids that made your first ever session at camp so much fun. But we all got to dress up super nice for banquet, we watched the dance concert, which FYI was amazing, and then we got to eat pizza and play silly games with our units. During Turnover*, we could either go to Baltimore, Washington DC, or go home with a friend. Being that I was all for the touristy stuff, I went to DC and had a great time with some counselors from Airy. I was happy to have some down time, but most of all, I was excited to be getting a new group of campers the next day, and building a great relationship with my two new wonderful co’s!
As opening day arrived once again, the campers arrived. Most of them had never been to camp before and were all super excited but nervous about the next three weeks at camp! I learnt so much about those campers in three weeks you wouldn’t believe! I again, loved working in my department, but I really enjoyed being a general counselor* for my girls. One of my most memorable sessions was when it was a particularly hot day. It was last period and my campers were tired, they weren’t feeling martial arts, like AT ALL. So as we were doing our warm ups, I made a few jokes to keep them motivated. Eleanor showed us what we were going to be learning with her…a drop roll. She wanted a volunteer to go first, none of my campers fancied it. So I stepped up. Dear me, I’m not exactly fit, and throwing myself off the floor wasn’t exactly pain free, but the girls loved it, they were all shouting ‘go Rach’ and ‘good job!’ and thankfully it inspired all of them to have a go at learning the move. It really goes to show that participating in activities sets the example! I loved that by making an example of myself, it in turn helped them to challenge themselves to do something they weren’t that confident in.
During my last three weeks at camp, I learned more about working with young children and adults than what I have ever learnt anywhere else! I also learnt that socks get eaten by the laundry machine…you can never have enough socks. My experiences at camp taught me that communication and flexibility is key to great working relationships. I also learnt that really, you shouldn’t take things to heart either. When you’re at camp, you’re living in a little bubble. The smallest thing might upset you or annoy you, but think about the bigger picture, really, would it annoy you in the ‘real world’ if someone cut in front of you in the buffet line?
To new international staff members, remember:
- Get a good night sleep your first night in the USA, it’ll be the last good night sleep you’ll have in eight weeks. Trust me, Sleep. Is. Everything.
- Be open to suggestion, or even change, you can only improve yourself, and in turn, it’ll make your summer so much more memorable and fun.
- Be flexible, there’s no fun in having everything your own way. You’re in a different country with a totally different culture, embrace it! – You’ll learn stuff you’d never even dream of!
- Enjoy yourself, don’t take your job too seriously, have fun with it! Likelihood is, if you’re not having fun, neither are your campers, and that well, sucks.
- COMMUNICATE: Talk to your Unit Leader or Department Head if you have a problem, a problem can’t be fixed if you don’t tell them about it!
- Be the best you can be! Be enthusiastic, even if times are tough – fake it till you make it!
- HAVE FUN – you’ve been hired because you have something unique to offer not only campers, but camp as a whole!
- Pack loads of socks!
- Ask to go home with Homegrowns* on time off. Being able to sleep in air conditioning can be rejuvenating!
- Practice saying “Harry Potter” because campers will ask you to say it over and over again.
- Finally, don’t let others pull you down. If someone seems down or distant, don’t let their negative energy keep you from having a good time. Instead, try and help that person, find out what the problem is, and offer a solution – They’ll be thankful in the long run (sometimes people just need someone to listen!)
Circle: You make “Circle” when you’ve been on staff for 3 summers. It is an honor to “pin” someone into Circle (literally, you get a pin).
Storm Procedure: During a storm, all activities are postponed and campers return to bunks. This is typically a time for bunks to bond. In fact, most good stories begin with “One time during storm procedure…”
BFC: Best Friend Crush – When a camper or staff member admires someone else and wants to be their best friend, it’s called a BFC.
Film Fest: The multimedia production featuring videos that campers/staff made during the summer.
Turnover: The time off between sessions. Usually about 1-2 days.
General Counselor: When you go around to activities with your bunk for the day. You get to participate in all the fun!
Homegrown: A camper that grew up at Camp Louise and went through the training program to now be a counselor.
DHULO: Department Head Unit Leader Office – The Department Heads and Unit Leaders make up a group called A-team (Admin Team). They are the leaders of camp and work in a space on the second floor of the office building, the White House.
CIT: Counselor-in-training- 16-17 year olds who are in the transition between camper and counselor. These campers spend their entire summer at camp, each day training in bunks and departments, and also receiving special perks like an overnight with the boys camp or free periods for rest.
CA: Counselor Assistants – 15-16 year olds. These campers spend half of their summer at camp, training half as much as CITs, and still getting to participate in activities. They also get perks.
ST: Senior Trainees- 14-15 year olds. These campers get a taste of what it means to be a counselor, along with some perks.
Units A, B, C, D, E, F: The age groups of campers are broken down into sub-groups called “Units.” The youngest are in Unit A, and the oldest in Unit F (if you don’t include the trainees [ST, CA, CIT].
Color Games: A 24-hour camp-wide competition. Camp is split into four different teams and compete in sports, arts, and adventures.
Hope this helps!