Let’s set the mood. You’re watching a movie that makes you feel incredibly giggly and hopeful and then all of a sudden someone dies or a bomb explodes and the credits start rolling. In this moment, all you can do is squeeze your fists as your body and mind try to process the emotion explosion that’s making your heart hurt.
This is what summer camp feels like.
I went to a summer camp as a camp counselor in New York during the summer of 2013 and it still causes an emotional labyrinth in my mind today. I did not know any of the other camp counselors and the first 6 out of 8 weeks were filled with demon children, weird accents, and little sleep. I went through culture shock in my own country when I realized that 12 year old girls make sex jokes and cut each others clothes up as an act of revenge. Not to mention how British people pronounce lilac and ADIDAS way differently than any American I know.
Let me break it down. The first day we got there, the head of the camp told us that when we leave, we will have made lifelong friends that know you better than the ones at home. I was skeptical. We arrived without the children, got to know each other, and waited for the kids to arrive. As soon as they did, we realized that if we did not support each other, the kids would make us want to jump in the lake and swim away.
My close friendships with people of completely different cultures was the only reason I made it through summer camp.
Some of the kids you met were so kind and wonderful but then some kids were just awful. They were late, rude, disrespectful and just plain old MEAN. I never thought a 12 year old could make me cry until the moment it happened. Ironically, I took the job because I love kids. Now, not ALL of them were that bad; there were some great kids there but the best thing I got out of summer camp were the lifelong friendships I made with other counselors.
Looking at this experience the right way really changed my whole perspective. I was really down while I was in New York. It was long, stressful days with only 5 days off in 2 months. Amazingly, you would never believe what those days did for you. I went camping on a river under the stars, stayed in a sketchy hotel with a really nice pool, and explored as much of New York City in 6 hours that a girl can. These days were spent with people from all over the U.S. and all over the world. It was amazing to be a part of a staff that was 75% international. Now, I didn’t get to know everyone, but a few co-counselors truly impacted me and I stay in touch with them to this day.
This is why. When I had an especially horrible day, I could reach out to these few girls and go on a quick walk with snot running down my nose and tears watering the sidewalk. I don’t have any idea what I would have done without them. So many times I wanted to call a cab to take me to the airport but they convinced me that if I wait it out, I wouldn’t regret it. I would call and talk to my mom and friends from home but no one quite understood what you were going through like the people who were stuck in the storm with you.
August, 2013. Camp Besties.
We were able to remind each other that we had to keep our chins up and smile because this experience had to be a good one. So, better late than never, I forced myself to smile and started to look at things in a more positive way. I reached out to more counselors and became friends with even more people. I began feeling a little more like myself every day until the final day came. The day we all went our separate ways to go home.
I have never cried so much than when I had to leave my camp best friends. You don’t know when you will meet each other again, but you do know that you will never forget how extraordinary those 8 weeks were and how it changed you and the ones around you. That picture is of two of the most incredible friends I have in the nation.
My co-counselor who became my international best friend. New York. 2015.
In this other picture is my English treasure, who I am hoping to visit this next summer. Without her, the children would have destroyed all strength I have and I couldn’t believe how two people from different worlds could become so close. From trying to teach her an American accent that always sounded Texan, to her making fun of the way I destroyed the English language, I will never forget the friendship we built by being there for each other when it was much needed.
Does my story make you think of one of your own? Something that changed your perspective? If not, think of any memory where you felt down. TWIST it. What was good about it? Try to do this when life throws hammers at you and remember that the first step in fighting for happiness is standing back up after being knocked off your feet.