During the summer of 2010, I took the seven-hour bus ride from Westchester, NY, to Middle-of-Nowhere, ME, for my first Summer away at sleep-away camp. While I sat curled up against the window, sobbing as the bus bumped down a dirt road, all the girls around me were out of their seats, screaming, singing, and throwing candy at each other across the bus. Clearly, this was quite a different setting from what my shy, quiet 9-year-old self was used to, and I had a strong feeling that the whole camp thing wasn't for me.
At the time, I couldn't have imagined that these rowdy girls would become my Summer sisters for the next seven years and that the place I was heading would become my second home.
I always cherished my time at camp, but it wasn't until my years at camp were over that I truly came to appreciate all the lessons it had taught me. Somehow, within that isolated bubble, I learned more about the real world than I did anywhere else throughout my childhood. Camp helped mold me into the young woman I am today, and my camp experiences continue to influence me as I grow older.
Here are five of the most useful lessons that I took away from my Summers at camp and that will serve your little camper for the rest of their life:
1. You need to be your own biggest advocate.
Camp was the first time in my life that I ever had to stand on my own two feet. This was daunting initially, especially as I encountered problems in the first few weeks, like getting into arguments in the shower line or not liking certain activities on my schedule. From 3,000 miles away, my parents could be of little help to me, so it became my responsibility to voice my own views and try to make things better. Speaking up for myself and learning to deal with these issues on my own dramatically improved my confidence and showed me that I could be in control of my own well-being.
2. The greatest relationships are built when you put down the electronics.
Going for two months without electronics is one of the greatest gifts camp gave me. It brought me and my camp friends so much closer because it allowed us to enjoy each other's company free of online distractions like video games or social media. Being at camp was therefore a real wake-up call for me in terms of realizing how much of my life at home was lived through a screen. My experiences that first Summer encouraged me to make changes during the school year, and I began spending more of my time with my friends at home actually talking rather than staying glued to a TV or computer.
3. It's always OK to ask for help.
As much as going to camp is about learning to be independent, it is also about being a part of a community where you can lean on those around you. Living away from home at such a young age can be difficult, but knowing that the people around you are in the exact same position makes things all the more comforting. Whenever I had a hard day or missed home, it was my fellow campers who cheered me up and talked me through it. Asking for help from people I had just met required a good deal of vulnerability, and yet without this help, I don't know that I would have made it through my first few Summers at camp. Through receiving help from the girls around me, I realized that none of us are ever alone, and that it can serve you to let your guard down and trust those in your community.
4. Try new things for the fun of it, not to be the best.
Only at camp can you go from shooting a bow to rehearsing a play to making a silver pendant in a single morning. Having such a wide range of activities to do each day seemed exciting to most campers, but my 9-year-old self had always shied away from trying new things. An anxious perfectionist, I was afraid of doing any activity that I wasn't the best at, and I regularly pretended I was sick or injured to get out of my activities that first year. With encouragement from my counselors and friends, however, I learned to be more comfortable with not being the best and to take myself less seriously.
5. Be appreciative of all the time you've got.
So far removed from the outside world, time at camp seems to slow down day to day, and yet everyone is always aware that their time at camp is limited. As I grew to love camp more, I always feared the end of each Summer and the eventual end of my time as a camper. I was able to cope with this fear by remembering how lucky I was to have this experience, so I tried to express my gratitude to those around me as often as I could. This practice helped me live in the present rather than worrying about the end, and I continue to use it in the real world to reduce my stress and put things into perspective.