When you arrive at a traditional American summer camp as a foreign counsellor, you don’t really have any expectations. As someone who didn’t grow up attending a camp, The Parent Trap and Camp Rock were the extent of my mind’s exposure to the experience. Entering the summer camp and being surrounded by acres of green space, wood cabins, and gravel roads felt more like someone threw you into the set of a Disney Channel original movie and legged it than anything else. My first steps into the camp grounds, as someone totally new to the environment, felt like an out of body experience – especially when two men in their twenties wearing superhero onesies approached me and introduced themselves with exceedingly broad American accents. It felt like a fever dream. And, considering I had been travelling from Scotland to middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania for thirty-six hours by this point, it very well could have been.
The initial shock of being immersed in a culture so drastically different from my own – “wait, people actually say y’all here?” – was something that I eventually became accustomed to as the summer progressed. At camp, the sight of cars became a rarity, and mobile reception and access to internet dwindled until I forgot completely about the previously incessant need to watch my friends’ Instagram stories. I became a friendship-bracelet-making machine. I had the time to read! Actual books! With my eyes! Truly unprecedented.
As my affinity for the offline, rustic environment of a summer camp grew, my interactions with the Americans who’d long been exposed to the summer camp style of life continued to be an idiosyncratic experience. It truly is very bizarre to have everything you’ve ever known reduced to a couple of curious questions from a child raised on lavish Long Island. The campers I was supervising told me, halfway through the summer, that they thought I was from Russia because they assumed Glasgow and Moscow were the same place. I laughed because thought they were kidding. They were not.
The lived cultural experiences were miles apart. I figured I would adapt to the social differences with ease – I’ve survived a year at the University Of Glasgow after growing up in Inverclyde, I can conquer anything! Yet here I was, feeling like a fish out of water when my bunk full of twelve-year-old campers discarded of worn-once leggings that were worth more than my car. Or when they started screaming because they found out I could play the bagpipes. Or when they discovered that I’d never attended a Bat Mitzvah. Or that I didn’t even know Hebrew! What was I, some kind of heathen?
It was an immensely eye-opening experience. My horizons expanded exponentially. You really don’t realise how narrow a scope you view the world with, until you take that very first step outside of your hometown. The insulation of my eighteen years living in the central belt of Scotland had led me to believe that the pinnacle of living truly was “a bottle of Bucky and a fiver deal”, as so eloquently put by oor ain DJ Badboy.
Working at a traditional American summer camp was, without a doubt, the most liberating thing I’ve ever done. The sensation of landing in a foreign country where you’re gifted with a clean slate, the opportunity to reinvent yourself for three months, and the plethora of activities offered by a summer camp was something I’m immeasurably grateful for. Despite the incessant mosquito bites, the frequent swells of homesickness, and the first thing I heard every morning at 7:30am being, “Gooooooood morning, Camp Chen-A-Wanda!” blared over a PA system outside my cabin, it’s an opportunity I am genuinely so glad I was able to partake in, and would highly recommend for any student seeking summer employment.