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Dane - Humans of Camp America

23.04.19

For years, I talked about wanting to go to America & live the cheesy camp experience that you see in the movies. Each year I kept on putting it off until I talked to a friend who had just completed a summer at camp & told me how amazing it was...that very night I filled out my Camp America application & haven’t looked back since!

There’s many memories of camp to even narrow it down to just one! However, one that will always stay with me happened a few days before camp while staying in Hermosa Beach, L.A. I made arrangements to travel with a few of the counselors I’d be working with so when we landed in LAX, we got a taxi to the hostel at Hermosa. Unfortunately, between the airport & arriving at the hostel, I lost my wallet that had my bank cards & $200 in cash. As I sat in the hostel frozen with shock, the people I travelled with were quick to ring the taxi company & even paid my deposit for my booked room in the hostel. Sadly, my wallet was never recovered (I got everything replaced very quickly so it was a happy ending!) but these strangers that I’d known merely HOURS, out of the goodness of their hearts, made sure I had the best 3 days in L.A with them before camp started. They made sure I was fed, watered & even paid for my bike rental so I could join them on their trip down the coast from Hermosa Beach all to the Santa Monica Pier. That day in particular is a day I will remember for the rest of my life! All of us speeding down the L.A. coast in bikes smiling & laughing while we had cheesy 80s music blaring from a speaker, strangers along the way cheering at us as we passed by. It was like being in a movie!! Needless to say, these co-workers of mine swiftly became my friends.

Camp was definitely much more challenging than I expected. Pali was a stay-over camp so you were basically a parent to the kids for a week. You had to make sure they were eating properly, keeping active, showering everyday & making sure they drank plenty of water, “Hydrate or die-drate!” as the saying went at camp! But most importantly, you had to make sure the kids were having a great time. Homesickness was a big obstacle for the younger kids at camp, so it was our job to help them through it & the best way to do that was keeping them active & encouraging them to engage in all the activities at camp. This way they weren’t thinking about home too much but rather living in the moment of wacky camp life! When you see those kids having the time of their life, that’s when being a counselor is very rewarding.

Camp will always stay with me because it gave me the greatest summer of my life. Through all the trials & tribulations, hardship & unbelievable happiness it brought me, camp gave me a whole new outlook on life. You get a glimpse into just how big our little world is & just to live a little. You meet & work with people from all over the world, experience things I never dreamt in a million years I would experience…I mean how many people can say that they frequently woke up to a family of deer walking past your window?! It’s just quite surreal even today to think that I lived this life for 3 months. I had an American address. A new name! Camp life completely transcends all of your expectations of what it should be but instead leaves you wondering what your camp life could be. That’s when you’re put into the driver’s seat & make it your own!

The great thing about camp is that you learn to leave all sense of insecurities at the door! If you’re not acting like the biggest idiot singing your heart out to Disney songs or The Greatest Showman, then are you even doing camp properly?! Camp has helped me be my own person again. Act like the biggest kid in the room & just enjoy life as much as you can while you can!

I think everyone should do Camp America because you get to experience something truly unique. You get to act like the biggest kid for a full summer while also having adult responsibilities…THAT’S THE DREAM!! You realise that you’re capable of so much more than you think you do & camp helps bring that out. Not to mention you get to travel the States for 30 days after camp so what’s not to love about that?!

If you’re considering applying for Camp America, my advice is to just do it! I spent far too long considering it & my only regret is not doing it sooner! I’m 25 years old & only just last year decided to participate.

The one camper I’ll never forget is the one who called me Lazlo…simply because he thought I looked like someone called Lazlo!! In return, I called him Gene Wilder because his hair was very reminiscent of Willy Wonka’s. It also became a tradition that we both sang “Pure Imagination” from the movie anytime we crossed paths at camp. This kid was larger than life & the counselors loved him. We even campaigned for him to get Camper of the Session in his final week of camp which he got!

The friends you make at camp are quite unlike any other friends you’ll make probably for the rest of your life. You spend all day everyday with these friends for 3 months straight, go through the exact same experiences both great & challenging all the while realising that there are people just as crazy & weird as you are! Needless to say, you become unbelievably close to these friends so quickly. In some cases, you find out more about your camp friends than some friends back home that you’ve known for years! Plus, at our camp, we got nicknames that we either chose or were forced upon us if you couldn’t think of a nickname before the official naming ceremony during orientation. These became our new names & we only called each other by our camp names & not our real names…because yelling out names like Bungee, Rhubarb, Reelz, CC, Thistle, Minnie, Yorkie & Schneebly in public never felt so good! I got Stark because I worked on the first few seasons of Game Of Thrones back home (it also became a running gag in the film specialty!)…but to the kids I told them it was because I was secretly Iron Man so they liked that! It really is a special kind of bond with camp friends!

I’m pretty sure a day hasn’t gone by since camp when I haven’t talked to the friends I made there. We’re at that stage where we’re talking as if we’ve been friends for years & we’ve met up a couple of times since parting ways in September with plans in motion to meet up again shortly!

I made the most of the full 30 days after camp to travel across the States with my friends from camp. We started in Las Vegas before heading back down to L.A. to experience the city properly. We went to the Walk of Fame, Warner Bros. Studios, Universal Studios & Griffith Observatory. I got another chance to cycle down the coast again, only as far as Venice Beach this time though but it was still amazing! Plus the jazz bar from “La La Land” was right next door to our hostel so that was pretty cool! Then we rented a car & drove down to San Francisco, spending a night in Monterey on the way. It was great seeing the backroads of America & driving through Wine Country! After San Fran we caught a plane to Austin, Texas before heading to Houston to catch an overnight bus to New Orleans. We ended up leaving New Orleans a day early because of the hurricane that was due to hit the region…on the plus side it meant we got to spend an extra day in Nashville which was a great place to visit! After Nashville we flew to Philadelphia, which was my greatest surprise. I absolutely adored Philly! We ended up staying 6 days there we enjoyed it that much! We ran up the Arts Centre just like Rocky Balboa ( I have the video to prove it!!), finally had a Philly Cheesesteak from Philly which was so worth it & got a little taste of home since Philadelphia is a VERY Irish city. I just couldn’t say enough good things about that city! During our 6 days in Philly, we also took a day trip down to Washington DC…where we once again re-enacted another movie scene, this time from Forrest Gump! Our road-trip was basically just a bunch of movie re-enactments in iconic locations!! Our journey ended in the only city to end a USA adventure…New York City!!! We stayed at a hotel in the Upper East Side, did Times Square, Grand Central Station, went atop the Empire State Building, spent our first morning eating breakfast in Central Park, went to The Met, Museum of Natural History, Washington Square Park, rode the Subway & on our last night went to a Broadway show. It was a dream & the perfect send-off to an incredible summer!

Camp taught me to take risks & live. It taught me to be ridiculous, to live, love, laugh, cry & to trust my instincts. It taught me that it’s okay to be emotional. It taught me that life is far too short to worry about silly little things that won’t matter a week down the line so why bother worrying about them in the first place? Most importantly, camp taught me to be myself. No matter how weird or ridiculous you think you may be, you can guarantee that the people at camp are just as weird & ridiculous as you are! Basically, camp taught me how to both rediscover & reinvent myself in the best possible ways & I’m all the better for it!

The best thing about being a Camp Counselor is probably the fact that it’s the only job where you have adult responsibilities, but you also get to act like the biggest kid in the world. It was part of our daily routine throwing water balloons at each other, shaving cream fights & standing on our chairs at mealtimes to sing & dance our hearts out! What other job offers those kinds of perks?!

My camp was a specialty/stay-over camp so that meant that the kids chose a specialty activity prior to camp that they would participate in every morning. That could be anything from catering, fashion, film, watersports, motorsports & everything in between. Then in the afternoon, they would choose electives to take part in which always varied from day to day. The best thing about Pali being a specialty camp was that I got to share my love for film with the kids who chose film as their specialty. It was so cool seeing the kids get excited about writing a script & making a movie before their final product was unveiled on the final night during camp fire. It never got boring seeing the kids’ faces light up on Friday nights as they saw their ideas being projected onto a big screen in front of their friends & the rest of camp.