How Working at Summer Camps Changed my Entire Life...

This is the story of how summer camp impacted my life.

In 2015, I participated in the IEP Summer Camp USA program for the first time. I was 20 years old; I had just finished two years of university at two different universities in two different degrees and I felt stuck. One day while I was dragging myself to a university tutorial I had no interest in whatsoever, I walked past a notice board with a flyer pinned to it. In bold bright letters, it said,

I was immediately drawn to this Summer Camp USA flyer. I then proceeded to spend the entire tutorial distracted and researching into it. I later signed up to the IEP Summer Camp USA program, a decision that little did I know at the time- would influence the entire course of my life and career in the next few years!

And then before I knew it, I had deferred university for a year and I was by myself on a plane heading to New York City. And oh boy was I ready to embark on a brand-new adventure.

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Photo: On my way to New York City (2015)

I was hired by a small campus styled summer camp in Thompson, Connecticut called Camp Stonewall. My role was as a General Counsellor. After I landed in NYC, I got myself to the HI Hostel (a camp counsellor hot spot) and I met the other international counsellors who would be working at Camp Stonewall. We all jumped in a few taxis, headed to the train station and travelled to New Haven, Connecticut where we were picked up in traditional yellow school buses by the Camp Stonewall Head Staff!

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Photo: The 4th of July weekend spent in Connecticut with my CSW co-counsellors (2015)

Camp Stonewall was run a little different to traditional summer camps. The biggest difference was that every child at CSW got to pick every activity they did throughout the day and every counsellor was assigned to run a different activity every period of the day. This meant that one period I could be teaching a fuse bead activity in the art room, the next period I could be running a gaga game and the next period I could be teaching a cooking activity! As general counsellors, we did get a preference of which activities we liked to lead however occasionally we would be asked to teach areas new to us- for me this was soccer. I ended up spending the majority of my teaching time in the Arts & Crafts room where I felt the most confident and passionate about the classes.

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Photo: Modelling hand made clay 'diamond' rings (2015)

The main advantage of Camp Stonewalls camper/counsellor preference system was that every camper was happy because they were doing the activities they wanted, and every general counsellor was happy because they were teaching the activities they liked. This worked super well at Camp Stonewall because it was a very small summer camp- only about 40 counsellors! It also really helped to integrate every child with each other and helped them to form friendships with people they might not have because of the school-age difference. I noticed that the older campers took a lot more interest in wanting to help the younger campers when they were in the same activity together. I would often take a mini step back and always felt very proud of my group of campers (13-year-old girls) when I saw them taking initiative and assisting others younger than them. It was a really lovely thing to experience.

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Photo: Colour Wars at Camp Stonewall (2015)

I had such an incredible summer working at Camp Stonewall and it was my experience there that made me fall deeply in love with everything that is Summer Camp culture. I woke up every morning at camp so ready and excited for the day, and I beg of you... if you ever find a job that makes you feel like this- protect it at all costs! I will forever be grateful for the people, values and experiences that Camp Stonewall introduced me too.

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Photo: Camp Stonewall Staff (2015)

When the summer at Camp Stonewall was over, I did a 26-day Trek America trip called The Americana Road TripIt started in New York and ended in San Francisco. I made friends for life on that trip who I’m still in close and regular contact with! It was so awesome to be able to see such a huge variety of different places in the US on this trip. The J1 Summer Camp Visa gives you 30 days after camp to travel the US and I highly recommend you make the most of that!

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 Photo: The Americana Roadtrip Trek America (2015)

Some of my highlights on the trip were visiting Nashville (I'm a massive Taylor Swift Fan), swimming at the stunning Blue Hole in Santa Rosa, seeing the Grand Canyon, Sandboarding on the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado and trying clam chowder for the first time in San Francisco!

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Photo: Grand Canyon (2015)

I really loved the camping aspect of Trek America as it meant we were able to see the big cities, small towns and beautiful national parks. I also loved that we got to cook together every evening at the campsites. This really helped us bond as a group. Since this trip in 2015, I’ve done a pretty decent amount of travel around Asia, Europe and North America and my Trek America trip is still one of the absolute favourite trips that I’ve ever done!

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Photo: Sandboarding in Colorado (2015)

I returned to Perth, Western Australia from the US in September 2015 with one clear goal; to finish my university degree so I could go back to the USA and work at a summer camp again.

And that’s exactly what I did. It took me 3 and a half years, a few major/minor changes and an eventful exchange semester to Spain... but I finally finished my undergraduate Bachelor of Arts in Public Relations & Photography at Murdoch University.

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Photo: A map of all Murdoch Universities Partner Universities (2019)

I loved my university degree and adding Public Relations was a massively positive thing for me that opened a lot of doors and opportunities. While studying, I managed to get a job working in the Study Abroad and Exchange Office. In this role, I was responsible for managing their social media, promoting the overseas programs and coming up with new ways to get students interested in studying abroad. This gave me my first taste into working within global mobility and then it clicked...

"Wow, I've actually managed to find an industry that combines my love for travel, public relations, social media and inspiring/helping others to have overseas experiences!"

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Photo: Murdoch University Graudation (2019)

Since it had been 4 years since I did my first summer camp experience, I made the decision to apply as a first-timer so I would be placed on a new summer camp. My experience at Camp Stonewall made me realise how passionate I was about teaching arts and crafts, so I was absolutely over the moon when I was hired by Camp Echo Lake in Warrensburg, New York in my dream position as a Fine Arts Activity Specialist. 

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Photo: Jenny (Fine Arts Activity Specialist) and I at Camp Echo Lake (2019)

From the very second I stepped off the bus at Camp Echo LakeI felt it again. The magic of summer camp. And I immediately knew I had found a very special place to call my summer home. Camp Echo Lake is located in the Southern Adirondack Mountains, about 3 and a half hours North of New York City. They have about 500 co-ed campers and a mixed domestic/international counsellor team of 250-270 people! So it was a very different but even more amazing experience compared to my camp experience at Camp Stonewall that's for sure!

Camp Echo Lake is the most special place I've ever worked in my life and will always hold an incredibly important place in my heart.

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Photo: Camp Echo Lake Staff (2019)

Unless you’ve actually experienced working at a summer camp and the magic of camp, it is very difficult to explain how much of an everlasting impact it makes on you. But regardless of this difficulty, I’m going to try my very best to put it into words.

"Working at a Summer Camp is the hardest job you'll ever love."

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Photo: Cooling off at General Swim (2019)

Working at a Summer Camp gives you so much more than just a job, accommodation and meals for two months.

Camp gives you a family. It gives you a community of people who have your back no matter what. These people don't see barriers, makeup, or fancy fronts! Just you when you're covered in paint, when you're smiling and sharing your passions, when you're exhausted, sunburnt and homesick, when you're laughing so hard you cry...these people see you 24/7 for two months and still see you and value you, just for you!

Camp gives you confidence. It gives you the ability to stand up in a bright yellow tutu at 10am on a Tuesday morning for no reason at all and scream ‘Hey this is who I am and that’s what makes me cool!’ without having to say a single word.

Camp gives you the chance to make a lasting impact on a child's life. It gives you the best feeling ever- getting to see a child learn something new after getting the courage to extend their comfort zone. Getting to see your campers grow and develop in a positive way is addictive and will always stay with you, and them forever.

Camp gives you opportunities. It gives you the chance to be yourself, try new things, work with likeminded people and learn about yourself in a very safe and non-judgemental environment.

Finally and most importantly, the magic of camp changes stays within you forever. You will never, ever be the same after camp.

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Photo: Halloween at Camp Echo Lake (2019)

I returned to Australia in September 2019, attended my graduation ceremony the next day (would not recommend doing this a day after 45 hours in transit) and flung myself into the absolute joy that is searching for a full-time job. A month went past, many cover letters were written and many jobs were applied for but I still hadn't been hired so I started working as a swim teacher, delivering flowers and working as a photographer again to fill the gap.

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Photo: Working casually delivering flowers, photographing and swim teaching (2019)

I was starting to give up hope a little on finding a full-time job and then if, by magic, the opportunity to work fulltime at IEP (the agency that sent me to summer camp both times!) in Auckland popped up! Without a thought, I jumped on the chance and moved my life across the Tasman from Perth-Auckland for my dream role working as a Work USA & Summer Camp USA Program Coordinator. For me, knowing I'm helping so many people get the opportunity to work in the US and on summer camps, brings me the ultimate amount of happiness. And I couldn't be more grateful for my journey that got me to where I am right now.

Be nice try hard,


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