Over the past few weeks, I’ve been incessantly applying to jobs. Every job I apply to wants to hear about my experience – what internships have I had, what relevant places have I worked, etc. Ugh. I’ve found myself getting frustrated that I never spent a summer working a paid internship at a magazine – why couldn’t I have done that? I’ve spent the last three summers working at summer camp, but apparently my summer camp experience isn’t relevant to “real life jobs.” For this reason, I’ve recently edged on regretting spending my summers working with adolescents and teens at the University of Oregon’s Summer Enrichment Program (SEP). But why? Why doesn’t summer camp count as relevant job experience? What makes summer camp not a legitimate job? In my time as a junior counselor, counselor, and administrator (Junior Counselor Supervisor), I learned more about professionalism, confidence, and life than I have at any “professional,” “relevant” job I’ve had.
My summer camp is an incredible place – it’s a two-week session that consists of classes taught by grad students and professors, counselor-led activities, counselor skits, camp-wide dances, all-nighters, field trips, and happiness. But it isn’t the events that define the experience – it’s the atmosphere and the people. Somehow, SEP is a place that brings together athletes, musicians, weirdos, princesses, dorks, (“a brain, an athlete, a basket case, and a criminal,” as The Breakfast Club would explain), under one word: nerd. We lovingly call it nerd camp; it’s a place where people can be truly themselves and let out their inner nerd.
Summer camp changed my life. In high school, I was insecure, I was dorky, and entirely not cool. At camp, people didn’t judge me, they didn’t care about my popularity, and they got to know me on a deeper level than any group ever had. I finally felt like I totally fit in – that people cared about me even though they knew everything about me.
Summer camp gave me confidence. I learned to be comfortable in my own skin and be myself around other people.
Summer camp was the first place I felt confident amongst my peers and amongst my superiors.
Summer camp taught me to dance with no reservations.
Summer camp taught me how to professionally deal with a student calling me “a f*cking c*nt” and how to relay the inappropriateness of her actions to her.
Summer camp showed me that gummy bears can be the best way to bond.
At summer camp, I learned that having a common enemy can be incredibly powerful for a group.
At summer camp, I cried and I saw people cry tears of happiness, sadness, anguish, joy, and love.
At summer camp, a boy told me I was beautiful for the first time.
At summer camp, I stood up to a grown man with the strongest women I’ve ever met and told him that “boys will be boys” is not an acceptable excuse for sexual harassment.
Summer camp taught me how to be an employer and an employee. It taught me to be a teacher, a learner, an authority figure, and a team member. It taught me how to be a friend and a lover. Summer camp taught me to be me.
I don’t know of a single internship that could have taught me what I learned at summer camp. For the first time in years, I am not going back to that square brick building with the courtyard, and I can only hope that SEP’s incredible legacy will continue. SEP changed me forever – each individual altered the course of my life – and I know that SEP will keep impacting me through my memories forever.