Spoiler moments for experiencing an all-American summer at camp
I soon realised there aren’t many things more quintessentially American than camp. From the daily flag raising, chants and cheerleading, to the July 4th celebrations, or meals of hotdogs, pizza and ice cream sandwiches – it’s an authentic slice of America. And getting stuck into these all-American traditional will only add to your experience. After all, a key part of being a camp counsellor is throwing yourself into every aspect of camp life and not taking yourself too seriously!
Here are some iconic, all-American moments to look forward to at camp.
1. Parent Trap vibes
Hollywood might have exaggerated some aspects of camp life (despite my best efforts, I didn’t find a long-lost identical twin), but there were so many things that did actually seem straight out of the movies. The bunk life, the big busy dining hall, the huge range of activities on offer, even the uniform or trumpet sounds marking each period.
There’ll be lots of pinch-me movie moments that’ll make you feel like you’re living a main character, all-American summer.
2. Camp traditions
These can be a bit of a culture shock! The level of intensity, emotion, dedication (and volume!) with which campers joined in their mealtime cheers, captain elections, or nighttime secret bunk-hopping never ceased to amaze me. Learn the words, lose your British inhibitions, scream at the top of your voice with the kids – you soon realise why they love it so much.
3. Days off
However you use these – whether you have chill days at a nearby beach or shopping mall, or plan a big hike or city day trip – you can’t help but encounter more all-American aspects of life. As opposed to some of the movie moments of camp, on days off I loved experiencing low-key, day-to-day things which had an American charm: the crazy snacks available in supermarkets (which are themselves crazily huge), driving along big open highways and across state borders, spontaneously going to local minor league baseball games, enjoying carnival food and fairground piers…
These are all things you might not get to experience if you were having a more traditional holiday – but when you’re living a bit more like a local for many weeks, you can soak them up and relish them.
4. Counsellor bonding
Another more informal aspect of your all-American summer is getting to know your fellow counsellors, who’ll come from all over the world as well as all over America. Late night canteen hangouts and card games, fuelled by camp cookies and a bit of delirium from the tiredness and time zones, produced some of my most funny and special memories of spending time with counsellor friends.
Inevitably, we’d always eventually get on to talking and joking about differences between all of our traditions, languages, weathers, school experiences, foods etc – amid all the tongue-in-cheek competitiveness defending our own experiences, I do feel I understand a lot more of these small but interesting cultural differences now.
Back to the big, glitzy side of your American summer – and no article could be complete without talking about the food. The range of breakfast pastries and bakes, desserts, nachos toppings, burger fillings, salad sauces and breakfast gravies (who knew?), or cookies – to name but a few – was amazing, and getting to have such easy access to it all at camp was a great experience. My favourite was of course the coveted campfire s’mores.
I also loved trying different local dishes and traditions during my travels after camp – gumbo, jambalaya, hushpuppies, étouffée, fried dough, authentic BBQ….
I can’t deny that amid this smorgasbord we did also become desperate for just some plain vegetables, normal non-multicoloured cereal, and tasty British chocolate – but that’s a small price to pay for a one-off summer gorging on an all-American buffet.
6. National Parks
The last thing I’d mention is to embrace and explore all aspects of America’s amazing landscapes, and to try and go a bit outside your comfort zone. Between your travels and days off, you can hopefully get to experience environments across the spectrum, from concrete jungles to wide-open deserts, and everything in between – state parks, small picturesque towns, local attractions and hidden gems.
You might be instinctively drawn more towards city breaks than nature hikes, or vice versa, but I would try and sample at least a small taste of both the nature and urban life America has to offer – having so much on your doorstep during a camp summer is such a rare opportunity!
Those camp rest hours where I raced down to the lake to squeeze in a bit of time swimming, paddleboarding, or kayaking were priceless – I’ve never chosen to do that on holidays previously, but it turned out to be a favourite way to spend time off at camp!
These are my tips, then, for an all-American summer. It’s going to be fun, loud, colourful, and totally bizarre at times – get stuck in and enjoy it, make the most of everything, be amazed and mind-boggled, and maybe just also bring along some of your favourite home comfort chocolate – just in case.