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The American summer camp experience

21st August 2012
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“Wow, £350 for a three month trip to America!! That’s amazing!” is a chime that seems to echo all over the country for thousands of British students as they plan to spend their summers in the beautiful warmths of the USA. Working at a summer camp to so many of us seems like the most amazing way to spend the three long months in between terms at uni.

I suppose many people have heard stories about it or watched Beaver Falls and thought “I am definitely doing that next year!” If you are thinking about it then read on and take my advice.

Undeniably the American camp experience is…well, an experience. Is it really the ultimate summer it is depicted to be? For some maybe, however for others a harsh reality waits alongside the rush of heat that meets them on the runway.

Firstly my advice is to check out your sponsor company. Whilst they may seem reputable, they are in fact all out to take a huge cut of your highly deserved wage. They fail to tell you about all the extra little costs that pop up along the way - some may charge you up to £70 extra just for you to fly from your local airport. Trust me when I tell you to phone around the companies, ask them of all the charges and add them up because in reality, you will pay a far cry from the original £350 promised to you. You also need to find out how much of a percentage they take from your wage because when you get to camp, you quickly realise that although your contract may state not to discuss wages with other staff, it will come out and you may be left far shorter than others down to your sponsor company.

Your next step is to check out your camp. Do not fall into the trap of “a camp finally wants me, so I’ll just accept it just in case I don’t get chosen elsewhere.” Many people do, including me. I was placed at a camp that was reputable, however it had extended and was doing various different camps in new places. It was slow starting and highly disorganised. Luckily we were all enthused enough to make it work, despite the fact that there were too many children and not enough staff (a ratio well worth finding out before accepting placement.)

Be prepared. Do not go and think “I’m going to have so much fun this summer.” You should go with the mind set “I’m going to work my arse off this summer” - then any fun you have will be a bonus (and you will have fun.)                

The sponsor companies love to tell you how much all the kids adore you, they don’t explain that these relationships take time to build…and until they have been built, you may find yourself at the height of stress.

After these barriers are broken down, and if you have sussed out your camp and your sponsors properly, you really should have an amazing time. Once you are set into your routine and you get over the constant tiredness, you will begin to have the amazing time promised and time will whizz by. 

The next step for most people is post-camp travel. This is the main reason most of us slog our guts out a camp for months. The main advice I can give for this is SAVE. Do not rely on your wages to supplement your trip. As cheap as people tell you things are, it isn’t always the case. Some states are far more expensive than others, a factor you should work out before accepting a placement. Whilst your camp should provide you with most essentials, you will still need money. If you don’t save enough and you just end up with your wages…well…good luck. After all of your hard work you tend to realise what you have endured is glorified slave labour. Yes you’ve had fun but you can’t remember what it feels like to not wake up and have your feet ache for fifteen hours on end. And when you look at that wage you realise it doesn’t go as far as you’d thought. A dollar is not a pound and you will have been paid a pittance when you come to realise this!

Megabus at this point will be your best friend; cheap take-outs and run-down hostels will be your life. You will meet amazing people, you can see amazing places; you just need to be prepared and figure out how you will handle your money before hand.

If you are thinking of doing this next summer, then look into it now before you have mounds of uni work to keep you occiped and you have the best chance to go to the camp that is right for you. Be cautious of the companies, don’t be too trusting with your money and above all be aware that every person you talk to in terms of “getting placed” plans to make money off of you, so do ask questions, do be aware and this way you can make the most of your trip without going in blind and coming out disappointed.




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