Last summer I spent roughly 10 weeks across the pond in the grand old United States. Like many students do, I decided that instead of getting a work placement or job back home that I would spend my summer working on an American summer camp. This without a doubt was one of the best summers of my life. A few days ago a friend who is embarking on his own American summer camp trip for the first time asked me if I had any advice for him. After thinking for a while I realised that there were many topics not covered in the hours of safety briefings, booklets or pre departure meetings.
In honour of it being almost a year since I flew out I have compiled a list called The Things That Camp America Doesn’t Tell You or T.T.T.C.A.D.T.Y for short.
1. Don’t get too attached to your airport friends
When you arrive in the airport you will instantly see scores of people all wearing their Camp America shirts nervously milling around, trying to make friends, and attempting to find people working on the same camp as them. This is a fascinating sight and even more interesting to be a part of. The best technique is to dive in head first and chat to everyone and anyone to try and find some company for the long flight. If you are lucky enough to find people working on the same camp as you that’s all well and good but if not you may begin to wander and make friends with people from other camps. This is all fun and games while it lasts but when you have to split ways to your separate camps upon touchdown in America it can get quite emotional. Fear not as these encounters while brief are all part of the experience and you’ll probably get over it by the time you get to camp.
2. Everything is super far away from everything else
I had this epiphany while on the painstakingly long coach trip from New York to Maine. Both these places are on the East Coast and so in my mind would be relatively close together. How wrong can one guy be. It turns out that they are really far away from each other. When travelling in America it is almost easier to think of the separate states in the same way that you would think of most European countries. They are right next to each other and you can visit several in a day if you try but they are still quite far apart. While everything in England is so nicely packed together due to us being a tiny little island in America they have a lot more space. This is not exclusive to cities and towns but even their houses are spaced further apart. It’s weird.
3. Flags, flags, flags, flags, flags, flags and more flags feat. flags
Flags, there are so many of them everywhere. You’ve probably heard that Americans are patriotic but you will never understand the level until you just spend some time there. I remember playing a game with the girl next to me on the coach where we would get points for spotting flags first. We gave up after about 15 minutes when it turned out she had the better eyesight and that there were quite literally flags every minute or so (PS. If you are going to play this game work out before hand how many points Stars and Stripes bunting counts for). This incredible patriotism gets worse on 4th of July (Independence Day) but honestly by this point you wont care. Independence Day (other than being when Will Smith saved the planet from aliens) is an amazing spectacle to be a part of. We don’t have anything like it in the UK, try to picture what would happen if there was a Royal Wedding and a Royal Baby AND we won Wimbledon once a year, every year, on the same day but it was just as exciting as the first time. Yeah that’s kind of what its like for them.
4. Beer Pong
Have you ever seen a movie in America where there is a house party and they all play beer pong. That happens. A lot. I always thought that it would be an exaggeration but beer pong is a very popular game and they have lots of crazy rules. To my surprise it is not just throw a ball at a cup. With many added rules included bounce shots, rebounds and being “on fire” you’ll wish you already knew how to play it. At one house I went too they even had a table specifically for beer pong with the American flag painted on the top. I would highly recommend getting in some practice with a ping pong ball and some cups in your back garden before you go. Remember the drinking age in America is 21 so drinking out in bars and pubs is pretty much impossible without an ID and I in no way encourage you to drink if you aren’t of a legal age.
5. The Accent
Chances are that at some point in the past you have been told (or have watched Love Actually) and you now think that when you waltz over to America every single American will swoon over your accent. Now this is not necessarily true. When you go to work on a summer camp most people there will be accustomed to your accent because British people work there every year. I’m sorry to have dashed your dreams but it’s better that you go out with realistic expectations. All hope is not lost as many people you encounter off camp will be intrigued by your accent. For all I know the accent could work wonders and I was just doing it wrong, or maybe its just the way I look.
6. Being Under 21
(only applies to people aged under 21, duh)
Coming from the UK where I had been able to drink happily in pubs and clubs for almost a year the drastic change in drinking ages from 18 to 21 made me feel 17 again. Thankfully the local club (I say club it was definitely not a club) put on an Under 21s night where ages 18+ were allowed in. I decided that it couldn’t be that bad and went along with a group of counsellors from the camp I was working on. I was wrong. I understand that some people may have enjoyed it but I personally did not. As soon as you walked in you had your ID checked and then you were either marked as an under 21 or an over 21. Once you were branded you were then herded like cattle into your respective section. The over 21’s section was lively, fun and had a bar. The under 21’s section was boring, quiet and sectioned off from the rest of the club. The only place you could meet was the tiny dance-floor with about as much space as a disabled toilet and the appeal of dancing with lots of sweaty strangers in a disabled toilet. It was an interesting night to say the least but overall I would not leap at the opportunity to do it again. This could all be because deep down inside I am already a grumpy old man who hates loud music and sweat who knows. Being under 21 does suck but alcohol isn’t everything so get over it.
I hope these tips are useful for you. I’m sure there are many more things that I have since forgotten but just remember to take everything with a pinch of salt. It’s a different country and a different culture, just because we speak
the same a similar language (that’s a whole other post) doesn’t mean that it will be just like home. You will probably have an amazing time and make incredible friends but when it comes down to it you’ll get back what you put in. So go out there and enjoy yourself.
If you aren’t going to America then just enjoy yourself. No one likes people who are miserable all the time. Lighten up.