Summer Camp Taught Me More Than Any Internship Ever Could

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.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 12.29.05 AM

My JC group: the group that started it all.

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.

The girl who taught me what SEP was all about - Love you, Em.

The girl who taught me what SEP was all about – Love you, Em.

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.

Counselors 2012

Counselors 2012

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.

Double Chins 2013

Double Chins 2013

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.

Run the World (Girls)

Run the World (Girls)

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.

Camp selfie 2014

Camp selfie 2014


7 thoughts on “Summer Camp Taught Me More Than Any Internship Ever Could

  1. dianasadventures says:

    I’m glad you realized how summer camp was such an enriching program, as long as you tell the interviewer what you just posted here then you’ll be good! I wish I did a leadership program at a summer camp too since we have a lot of opportunities, so I am quite envious. You got to have fun AND gain real world leadership skills!

  2. Buffy says:

    As an SEP student in the late 80s and counselor in the early 90s, I still reflect on your that one-of-a-kind experience and feel gratitude for the experience. Long live Otter Pops and over-watching of “The Princess Bride”!

  3. Diane Dietz, reporter says:

    Hi Ms. Tierra Wearer,

    I’ m Diane Dietz, a reporter at The Register-Guard and I’m writing an obituary for SEP. The university has decided to cancel the enrichment program after 30 plus years.
    I’d very much like to talk with you about your experiences at SEP. Could you please call me at 541-338-2376. I’m on deadline. The story is due end of day Friday, 1/22 Thanks

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