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Read all about Harriet’s great experience on the Summer Camp Exchange USA programme at Brown Ledge Camp, Vermont!
It all started quite unexceptionally in a small lecture room at university, where I attended a BUNAC presentation on the various American programmes. I soon applied for the Summer Camp programme, had a BUNAC phone interview, a camp phone interview, and was accepted to work at Brown Ledge Camp, Vermont.
Months and essays later, I found myself on a group flight and sitting next to a charming French man, with whom I shared a toast (Santé!) of the complimentary wine, then lay back to watch the films and nurture my growing anticipation.
When we touched down at JFK, we were met by the BUNAC reps, who accompanied us to our hostel for the night. The drive into the city was a jumble of yellow taxis, wide American roads and tall, metallic buildings, as well as the fervent chatting of my co passengers, and the first song of my summer blaring out of the cab radio. Rather aptly, Alicia Keys had only stated it a few months earlier, and 'New Yoooork' accompanied me into New York.
At the hostel, we were briefed by the BUNAC team on what to expect the following morning, along with details of breakfast and travel information for getting to our respective camps. I only had vague ideas about an American summer camp at the time, and all I knew about Vermont was its skiing reputation, and that it is apparently stunning in autumn - both of which seemed irrelevant on that scorching, mid-June day...
I landed in Burlington with a couple of other BUNACers, and we were met by counsellors and driven to camp. We all stayed the first few nights, before the kids arrived, in a Junior Counsellor (JC) cabin, decorated with generations of names and dates. We did some team-building exercises, First Aid, and prepared our respective areas for the children to arrive.
I'd signed up for a camper cabin, requiring me to visit 'my' kids each evening, to sit with them through Taps ('a musical piece sounded by the U.S. military to indicate that it is lights out' – thank you, Wikipedia) make sure they adhered to the curfew, and support them through camp. The children I looked after were some of the funniest, most entertaining and intelligent people I have ever met and I found myself looking forward to this aspect of camp every day.
Mealtimes were preceded by singing grace, and succeeded by singing far less reverent songs. In fact, camp was saturated with songs, some originals and some old folk songs, popular songs and hymns; Moonshadow, Amazing Grace, Right Field, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot... Birthdays involved fancy dress, and a peculiar little hiding-the-cake ritual, and most activity announcements seemed to start with a sketch involving crying ('Why are you crying, Gracie?' 'Because I don't know how to crochet...')
My day to day routine was interrupted by lovely things like hiking up the mountains, theatre performances (Wicked!), talent contests, drive-in movies, Fourth of July pranks and 'chapel' which wasn't really chapel, but a secular celebration of everything camp-related. Memorable moments include dozing on the sailing dock, watching Fourth of July fireworks over the Lake Champlain, and actually learning to crochet.
By the end of the summer, I'd become completely attached to camp, both the campers and counsellors, and to the beautiful place itself. The loyalty and support are so strong, it really does become a second home, and counsellors, especially those who return year after year, can make a massive difference to the children’s’ lives.
In the last week of camp, there was a banquet and an awards ceremony in which the last year campers gave gifts to their friends, counsellors and people who had inspired them. Then everyone went down to the lake, a huge queue of campers and counsellors, waiting to receive hand-outs of candles in little wooden holders. When we reached the dock, we made a wish, put candles on the water and watched the lights drift out into the darkness.
I didn't do much travelling after camp, but a couple of camp friends and I ventured to Florida for a week, where I spent most of my time on the beach. After two months of early morning starts, I like to think I'd earned some relaxation time. Perhaps I relaxed a little too much as I somehow almost missed my flight, and wound up banging on the door to the gate, getting hostesses to phone through, and running down the plane to the stunned exclamation of: “Girl, you so lucky!”
After the summer I'd just had, that seemed pretty apt.
Do you want to start your awesome summer? If you have experience working with children sign up to our Summer Camp Exchange USA programme and inspire future campers and make ever-lasting memories! Call us today to see if you meet the requirements on 03339997516.