Finding meaningful work as a young adult can be tough. Usually our high school and early college summers are about earning enough to sock something away in savings while still generating enough pocket money to go out with friends. Add to the mix the growing pressure to pad your resume early with internships and other activities and it can start to feel like the beginning of serious adulthood is getting pushed earlier and earlier.
Because of these dynamics, teens and people in their early 20s increasingly feel it might be hard to justify spending summers working as a camp counselor. This sentiment stands to rob plenty of young people of one of the most valuable experiences of their young adulthood.
American pop culture’s fascination with summer camp has left us with no shortage of both iconic and satirical glimpses of life as a camp counselor. But how accurate are these glimpses, really?
Sure, movies like Wet Hot American Summer, Heavyweights, Moonrise Kingdom, and the Parent Trap touch on universal themes about the role summer camp can play for campers and counselors alike. But entertainment thrives on exaggeration, and the sheer range of camps out there makes it tricky to generalize the quintessential experience of working at a summer camp.
Here are a few reason why we thing working as a summer camp counselor is a job every teen or young adult should have:
1. Get Paid to Play!
How many jobs pay you to play outside with a bunch of zany, awesome kids?! Whether you are more at home on the ball field or in the art shed, a stage or the waterfront, being a camp counselor means getting to spend lots of your time playing and guiding the play of young folks. Few jobs are simultaneously this rewarding and this fun.
2. Work in the Great Outdoors
On a related note, as more and more work migrates into virtual space, odds are good you will spend more of your working life than you really want to in front of a computer. There are ways around this, of course, but even if you manage to steer clear of cubicle work, some amount of computer-ing is nearly unavoidable these days. Not so at summer camp: unplug, lace up, and explore the beauty and wonder of the great outdoors!
3. Gain Leadership Skills
As with teaching, being a counselor at a summer camp puts you in a position to lead different kinds and sizes of groups, providing lots of insight into how people — both kids and adults — interact with one another in different contexts. Whether leading an activity or outing, teaching campers a new skill, or working on forging bonds among cabinmates, working as a camp counselor is a true leadership growth opportunity--and one you can carry forward into future jobs and endeavors.
4. See Yourself in a New Light
Because working at a summer camp takes counselors away from home or school for a significant chunk of time and puts them in a position of leadership and responsibility, it creates fantastic opportunities for self-discovery and personal growth. Camp counselors learn to interact with people in new ways, see themselves as mentors and leaders, and try out new activities and roles. In this way, summer camp offers its counselors the same safe and encouraging environment for growth that it offers campers.
5. Make Lifelong Friends
As anyone who has worked at a summer camp can attest, camp is an immersive experience and truly a world unto itself. Living and working alongside peers in close quarters for long hours can be exhausting at times, but it is also exhilarating. This immersion forges strong ties that extend far beyond the summer. Many campers and counselors alike build some of their truest, deepest friendships at summer camp.
6. Learn About Other Cultures
Many camps make it a priority to hire international staff. For these staff members, this creates a pathway to get a visa and do some traveling in a different country. For the camp, it adds a multicultural dimension to the experience of both campers and staff. One wonderful outcome is the cultural exchange that naturally occurs as international staff share stories, songs, games, and foods from their home country as they learn about the culture of the place they have come to work and visit. Another gift of this exchange is that it creates a global network of friends who then often host each other as visitors/travelers in years to come.
7. Get Experience Living Away from Home
Lots of young people never experience what it is like to live somewhere other than their childhood home until they move out, either to go to college or embark on a career. Camp offers young people a way to spend a considerable length of time away from home and experience what it is like to live among peers in a very different environment than they may be used to. This experience is hugely valuable as preparation for eventually moving out and living with roommates or striking out on one’s own.
8. Kids Have a Lot to Teach You
Although ‘camp counselor’ conjures images of teaching and guiding young people, it turns out that campers have plenty to teach their counselors, too. Whether they are pushing you or simply showing you the world through their eyes, kids have a knack for striking perceptiveness and challenging us in unexpected ways.
9. Make a Genuine Impact!
Kids go to summer camp at a time in their lives when they are looking for mentors, and they often find one in their camp counselor. This puts camp counselors in a weighty but fulfilling position, and enables them to make deeply meaningful impacts in the lives of young people who come to look up to and listen to them.
10. Explore an Unfamiliar Area or Region
Because of their emphasis on time spent outdoors, summer camps are usually situated among beautiful surroundings: rivers, lakes, forests, beaches. Working at a summer camp can be a great way to explore new terrain and get to know a place you’ve wanted to visit but have never been before.
11. Uncork Your Creative Potential
Want a job that lets you screen print t-shirts in the morning, invent a new sport in the afternoon, and help direct a play after dinner? As a camp counselor, the days can be long, but they seriously fly and are full of all kinds of opportunities for creative expression and improvisation.