Camp Counsellor of the Week : Jamie

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In 1991 at the wildly youthful age of 19, Matt Smith flew to the USA for the first time to take part in Summer Camp USA at Camp Workcoeman Connecticut. 25 years have passed, but he can still remember his memories like they were yesterday. He tells us about his truly unforgettable summer that helped him gain the skills needed in his current profession as a physics teacher. Cue lovely nostalgia, dust off the old photographs and blast Bryan Adams’ Summer of ’69 (then replace it with Summer of ’91.)
"Whilst packing to move house, at the age of 44, I came across an old t-shirt buried at the bottom of a drawer. It's faded cloth hinted at a sun drenched summer 25 years before in 1991. I looked at the camp logo with the word STAFF in faded print over the left breast and was transported back in time to the waterfront cabin at Camp Workcoeman, Connecticut. USA.
At 19 I'd finished my A-Levels a year before and worked for the year to build up my savings before university. I now had a long summer of adventure and my first trip to the USA to look forward to. The process had started a few months before with an application to BUNAC (which I favoured over its counterpart for the higher wages and better service) and an interview a little later. As a member of the Scout movement I was eventually placed on a Scout Camp which, I read now, twenty-five years later, is one of the oldest and greatest in the country.
The new experiences started immediately. I wasn't a green-stick to adventure, having spent the previous summer in Kenya on a building project, but this was all decidedly different from my previous trips. My first solo flight, on the now defunct TWA, flew from Heathrow to JFK. I was yet to know my final destination at the time but on the flight there were clearly others in my position and I struck up conversations easily, meeting some in the same situation. Upon landing at JFK I transferred to the Port Authority bus station. This was a real culture shock in 1990’s New York when crime rates spiked and the crack epidemic was in full flow. The terminus was considered ‘dangerous’ by police. The bank security guard in Wundanyi, Kenya with his metal studded baseball bat, spiked shield and crash helmet a year before was poor preparation for the main terminus in Manhattan, New York! A quick trip up the Empire State Building and then on to the old YMCA building, the largest residential YMCA in the nation, where I received my camp location and a restless, excited night with sirens all night long up West 34th Street.
Jumping on the bus in the morning with three other Brits, also heading for Camp Workcoeman, the journey took us past Harlem and into the green of New England and Connecticut. We were met at the bus station in Torrington by the Camp Director, Lou, a convivial Italian-American who still runs the camp 25 years on, and taken to a now-familiar Subway Sandwich bar to grab a bite to eat (and looked the fool having no idea what to do when I had to self-serve my drink - a concept still ten years away in the UK at the time). Finally I entered the biggest sedan car I had ever seen - apparently straight out of the Blues Brothers! We were whisked away to Camp Workcoeman on the crystal clear West Hill Lake to discover my home for the next two months.
The weekly cycle soon set in with a new bunch of kids arriving on a Monday morning. Being a waterfront instructor, solely responsible for the boating area, I shared a cabin with three other instructors and no kids. We traded the freedom of not looking after the kids 24 hours a day for the 6 AM Polar Bear Club swim duties and rather than a tent, a cabin. Days were highly structured as expected of a Scout camp; flag break, breakfast, morning Merit badge instruction. Lunch,  afternoon activities, dinner, evening activities and the ubiquitous camp fire. The days were glorious, doing exactly what I loved 24 hours a day, every day. Working with the kids was great, even better with hot sun, a lake through which the bottom could be seen over ten metres down, good food and great companionship. In my free time I could take advantage of any of the activities on site and weekends were free to do as I pleased.

Working alongside international staff together with locals enabled visits to their homes and their lives, experiencing the future Britain in giant malls and amusement parks. Life was good and varied. I recall driving around in classic Ford pickups music blaring, a red Maserati giving me a lift back to camp late one night; the 4th of July celebrations at our Camp Director’s home with the all-American BBQ. A visit to the cinema to see Kevin Costner in Robin Hood gave me a brief pang of home sickness upon seeing the vivid green and familiar sights of England on the screen in the cool of the air conditioned cinema. I ate crayfish the size of which I have never seen again, sloppy joes and rainbow cheerios at a time when the only starter options in the UK were a melon quarter, prawn cocktail or a solitary glass of orange juice. British food has come a long way! I was rapidly gaining skills and experience that would be invaluable in my present, and only, career as a secondary school teacher and, significantly, growing up. I became an adult. This was the time I left home for good. I cannot over emphasise the importance of my experience with BUNAC in preparing me for my future. Enough support to make it happen but the emphasis on me getting it done.
As I write, these memories come flooding back to me as if camp were yesterday - too many people and events to talk about for this short article. Maybe I was lucky with the truly marvelous Camp Workcoeman, but speaking to others I meet throughout the years they too can recall amazing and varied experiences. Not one person regretted it or indeed has a bad word to say about their time on camp. And if camp wasn’t enough; leaving was hard, I loved it; the next stage of the adventure began. A six week, nationwide, Greyhound bus ticket in hand I left to visit America."

- Matt Smith
Ready to embark on your own Summer Camp USA experience? We're the cheapest in the UK and with memories like this, why not get involved? Give us a call on 033 3999 7516  to start your Summer Camp USA application. Regional interviews are taking place now!