“One week early!” I said to myself as I read a letter from my program director. “I have to come one week early to camp to be trained!”
Needless to say, I was less than pleased to give up my last week of freedom before camp started to be trained.
That Sunday arrived and it was such an exciting feeling finally seeing the Camp Tekawitha sign in the woods. I felt like an eleven year old again with all my camp memories pouring in. But one thing was different. Camp seemed so much smaller than I remembered.
As I walked to the flagpole to meet my co-workers for the next nine weeks, nervousness set in. Will I like these people? Will they like me? Then the nervousness got worse.
We had to go change into our suits and take a swimming test. Here I am, with a bunch of strangers having to take a swimming test!
This simple task was to see if I was a decent swimmer, but it was so much more to me. It made me realize what it felt like to be a camper on the first day of camp in a new setting with nothing familiar.
Another activity that made me see camp through the eyes of a camper was rather simple. We had to get on our knees and crawl around the dirty campsite to see from the level of a child. Camp looked big again!
For a seven year old or even a twenty year old, the first day of camp is an exciting but nerve-wracking experience. This day was a day I remembered throughout camp when one of the campers needed a little help adjusting.
The night came quickly and it was an awkward feeling going to bed in a cabin with nine other high school/college girls, none of which I knew. But, here’s where the bonding began.
We sat on the sandy wooden floor in a circle and asked each other questions like, “How old were you when you had your first kiss?” and “Has a guy ever broken your heart?”
We then all got into our squeaky bunk beds and the questions turned away from boys and more to our hopes and dreams.
As the week continued, three foreigners arrived with tales of their first days in America. It was a challenge explaining the silly songs and games we play to them, but it always led to humor.
I tried explaining a mosh pit to one of the guys and he got all excited and said, “Oh yes, we have mashed potatoes in Slovakia too.”
The counselors continued to get to know each other and hang out. We watched movies, had late night pizza snacks, and told ghost stories over smores.
One night we all went to the lakefront and watched our first sunset together as a staff, which was a reminder of the beauty of nature that surrounded us at camp.
We had to relearn games like Red light, Green light and Capture the Flag. Part of the greatness of camp is acting like a kid again. We played tennis, volleyball, and archery and realized we are not all good athletes, but that we did have fun trying.
As a staff, we went on a canoeing trip. We splashed each other and ran into each other more than we would ever let the campers. While preparing for our canoe trip, two of the counselors kept tipping over and we laughed with them every time.
It was apparent that they were nervous for the real deal, but luckily they had different partners and never fell in.
On Friday, we ended our week of training with closing ceremony, which is held every Friday throughout camp. We each read our memories and our wish for the summer.
Our memories included a big rainstorm that chased the mice into the cabins and us out of the cabins and singing silly songs all day with no campers. Our wish was to make a difference in the lives of our campers.
Counselors need to learn to work together and to become a team. This can be encouraged by having them practice team building exercises and by just having them hang out and learn about each other.
It is also important that they understand what the campers are experiencing because camp is for the kids. It was a training program that helped us see through the eyes of a child.
It showed us how to be compassionate and how to relate to each other. It made us remember the feeling of what it’s like to be in a new atmosphere. We learned to help each other out and to work as a team. This training made me feel like a kid again and prepared me for my summer at camp.
Elizabeth Bergstrom is a junior at Marquette University in Milwaukee, and was a counselor at Camp Tekawitha in Shawano, Wis., last summer.