As an organismal biology and ecology major, after college, I intend to pursue a career in science, and perhaps even a doctorate. By all rights, I should be spending my summer doing research, interning, taking summer courses, anything to diversify and strengthen my resume. This summer, though, and in past summers, I have cast off any suggestions and disregarded any pressures to do academically impressive or important activities, sometimes unwisely. Rather than immersing myself in biology, I will spend June, July, and August sleeping in a cabin with no electricity. For an eighth consecutive summer, I will be far from academia, ensconced in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts.
Working at summer camp can be as valuable an experience as any swanky internship or summer research opportunity. The name “Camp Becket” may be one of the only names on my resume, but that one name is far more important to me than an internship could be. It is not a sports camp, it is not a religious camp; it is a camp for growth and moral development. When I explain this to my friends, they sigh or roll their eyes, amused by my devotion to a mere summer camp. This summer camp, though, is not “just” a camp, it works to make me a better communicator, a better leader, and a better person, as much if not more than any internship could.
Summer camps are places where essential personal growth occurs, both in childhood and adolescence, all the way to adulthood. They provide a space where kids can be independent of the often-controlling presence of their parents, to explore who they are outside of their home life. It is possible at camp, independent of everyday stressors, to gain perspective on yourself and, at the risk of cliché, discover an idea of who you really are. The supportive communities found at summer camp are increasingly rare in the world, and provide support where there might be none in the world outside of camp. This phenomenon of growth is not exclusive to campers, to be in the Berkshires for a summer is to learn more about yourself every time you return. Internships or research, by comparison, do not always result in quite the same self-discovery, sitting at a desk or performing tests in a laboratory. This is not to say that internships or research cannot be life-altering or places to gain perspective, but camp affords that unique space for self-discovery that is hard to find elsewhere.
As for the professional side of things, to be a camp counselor is to simultaneously take on the role of parent, sibling, and teacher. In counseling, unique leadership experience is gained. Generating a positive experience and building a supportive community for young children is no easy task, and leading with an iron fist is no way to go about it. One has to act as an exemplary role model, someone who campers aspire to be when they’re older. While responsible for the emotional and physical well being of campers, not to mention planning activities and cracking jokes–inevitably, a strong sense of responsibility and the ability to perform under pressure develop.
At camp, communication is finely tuned. Explaining to an 11-year-old how they can achieve their goals, or helping them process complex emotions, or even just teaching them how to throw a Frisbee requires patience and skill with your words. In being responsible for these kids, it is essential to be able to communicate efficiently without being too rough. In concert with the self-reflection at camp, such as deep conversations around a candle or campfire expressing deepest fears and highest hopes, communicating and considering complicated ideas becomes second nature.
Summer is a prime time to deepen one’s resume and gain workplace experience. At the same time, though, it is an all-too-brief respite from the hustle of collegiate academics. This break is especially important when you’re immersed in intense classes block after block at CC. With little time to catch your breath and try to separate the academic from the personal, it is exceedingly difficult to gain perspective on oneself. Research or internships, while admittedly a prudent choice for many students (including myself), do not necessarily provide the camaraderie and personal development that can be found at summer camp. In the Berkshires this summer, and past summers, I will have been able to work on the personal without necessarily sacrificing the professional, becoming a better communicator and leader without having to spend ungodly hours in a lab or the field, and without having to put on a suit and tie every morning.