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Working Away: The Life of a Summer Camp Counselor in America

Insider input on living as an overnight camp counselor.

Credit: Shutterstock/varuna

Are you outdoorsy with a desire to make some money while experiencing a new part of the world? Well, keep reading to find out about the reality of what it’s like to work as an overnight camp counselor in America.

Picture yourself stepping off the bus that picked you up from the airport, your duffel bag slung over your shoulder. Immediately, the scent of pine trees hits you and shockingly fresh air fills your lungs as you take in your new surroundings.

Before you know it, you’re pulled into the tightest hug ever and the director of your camp introduces herself. You can feel that these next three months are going to be incredible.

The experience and effects

Counselor friendship

As a former summer camp counselor myself at Camp WeHaKee in Wisconsin, I can honestly say it was life-changing!

Although I stayed in my own country for the summer, it still managed to be a very international experience due to my coworkers whom I met from all over the world.

Throughout the course of the summer, I worked with women from Mexico, Ireland, England, Australia, and more!

Credit: Shutterstock/sdecoret

Working with international counselors provides the perfect opportunity to learn about other cultures through a firsthand lens. In order to work well together, it’s important to understand your colleague and a large part of that is hearing about their homes.

Connecting closely with your coworkers at summer camp is really easy to do, in case you’re worried about making friends! Not only are you forced to bond due to the proximity of your living situations, but there is usually an allotted amount of time before campers arrive to get to know your colleagues.

The friendships I made as a camp counselor have remained as strong as ever, and have since proved to be wonderful connections for traveling and experiencing more of the world. Since that summer in 2022, I have travelled to various cities staying with former coworkers, such as Barcelona, Copenhagen, and London.

Unplug

Credit: Shutterstock/YanLev Alexey

Most American summer camps are in heavily wooded areas, meaning cell phones usually don’t work super well. Don’t fret! This is actually one of the many positives about being a camp counselor.

Bonding with others becomes innocent and free, in the way that you’re forced to talk about everything you can possibly think of because of the lack of internet interference.

Leaving camp, I’ve become very detached from my cell phone and much better at intimately getting to know new people. Into learning more about unplugging from your phone? Check out this article!

Activities

Credit: Shutterstock/Anna Om

One of the best parts of working at an American summer camp is being able to try new activities that you wouldn’t be able to do anywhere else. Most summer camps, especially ones near a lake, offer activities such as sailing, waterskiing, horseback riding, and windsurfing.

You might be thinking, “I don’t know how to do any of those things. How will I teach them to campers?!” Don’t worry. That’s what staff training is for!

You will have time to learn all the tricks and skills before you’re supposed to pass on your knowledge. And most of the activities are surprisingly easy to pick up, just bend your knees on those waterskis!

Soon you’ll be the master of many odd talents that may come in handy later in your life. You never know when you’ll have to randomly tack up a horse.

Campers

I’ve waited to get to the most important part of the job! While being a camp counselor is about bonding with your coworkers and learning new activities, it ultimately is about helping all of the campers have the best summer of their lives!

For most summer camps, you will be in charge of a small group of campers, aged anywhere from seven to seventeen.

These campers will look up to you! It’s important to remember that each child comes from a different background.

For me, my campers were from all over the world. It’s a beautiful thing to lead both American and international children and work to bring them together through a fun time.

In the end, I found that they taught me much more than I taught them.

One of the best parts was seeing how much they are able to grow over such a short amount of time. Even the quietest campers were into the camping spirit by the end of the summer.

Also, the way they are able to bond with each other is just as special as the counselor friendships. I am still best friends with the girls I met at summer camp when I was nine years old!

A real international experience

Credit: Shutterstock/Volodya Senkiv

Let’s hear from two of my former co-workers at Camp WeHaKee: Niamh from Ireland and Ximena from Mexico.

Niamh, who is a third-time returning camp counselor, says that her favorite part about camp is the friends you make for life from around the world.

One thing I always say to people who can’t decide is to just do it, take the chance of going! I was always scared and nervous of trying it because I wasn’t used to flying alone or if I’d make friends. But genuinely it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

Niamh

Niamh encourages others to participate in the international camp experience because it opened up so many doors for her. “I’ve even been offered more jobs away from home just from taking the leap,” she says.

Ximena, who left behind everything she knew, including her own language, also loved being a camp counselor. She says that she would recommend the experience to anyone seeking adventure.

When asked about the scariest part, Ximena explained that she was really nervous about the language barrier, with campers and other counselors. However, after just a couple of days at camp, she realized that it would not pose an issue, everyone was very eager to make sure she was included and could understand.

Are you interested to hear more about Niamh and Ximena’s stories? You can reach out to them via social media! Just search up @ximedeicaza and @niamhj15 on Instagram.

You can too!

Summer is not too far away! I can practically hear the chant of camp songs around a fire. Take a deep breath. Do you smell the pine trees?

If you’re American, all you have to do is find camps that look interesting to you and apply online. I know job hunting can be daunting when that search bar is blinking back at you, but just type in “overnight camp counselor jobs” and it should come right up!

If you’re a woman aged 18 to about 25, you should try Camp WeHaKee, which I’ve linked above.

If you’re international, like Niamh and Ximena, don’t worry! There’s just a couple of extra steps. You could apply through CCUSA.COM or directly to the camp. As for visas, the process can be tedious, but the camp administrators should be well-versed in visas and able to help you.

Go out and see the world!

Written By

Hello! My name is Katie and I'm a travel writer for Trill Mag. I'm from Chicago, but currently living in Dublin, Ireland for college at TCD. I'm OBSESSED with traveling and experiencing all the world has to offer, and writing is a wonderful outlet for all that life on the road has taught me. It's beautiful to be alive!

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