Ever since seeing The Parent Trap movie I’ve been kind of obsessed with Camp America…it’s such a cool concept! Imagine spending a month camping amongst a forest in wooden cabins, doing fun outside activities all day every day and making new friends from around the world.
This week’s Wild Heart interviewee, Morgan, is currently in Cineticat completing her 5th summer camp season. She shares her experience and everything you need to know about working at a American Summer Camp.
Hi, Morgan! Start by telling us a little bit about yourself…
I’m about to turn 26 years old, I hate routine and repetition, love spontaneity, hate to plan too far in advance, love adventures and exploring. I’m just a go with the flow, catching the current kinda gal. Friends (Jess and Rhan) once told me that if I was any more relaxed I’d be dead. I love to travel and try new things. I love anything to do with the outdoors and water. I love to be around people who lift me up and inspire me with conversation. I hate messaging and email, although with traveling so much it’s become a necessary part of my life now. I regularly go months at a time without a phone. I love food and a lot of the time my mood is directly related to what food I’ve had that day.
I’m the ultimate optimist and dreamer. I believe things always have a way of working themselves out in the end so there’s no point stressing over the little things.
Where are you from?
I grew up in the south east of South Australia near a small country town, 3 hours from Adelaide and 5 hours from Melbourne. Growing up on a farm has left me with so many amazing memories from my childhood. Just running around in the bush from sun up until sun down without a care in the world. Having an older brother made me a bit of a tomboy, anything he could do I would do. My little sister and I would try everything he did. I loved everything about my childhood.
When I was 14 years old I went to a boarding school in Adelaide where I met people from all over the state. My parents sent me for an education but I mostly focused on my social life. I think people have a skewed perception of what boarding school is like. For me, it was getting to live with all of my best friends and was probably the start of my inquisitiveness and itchy feet. It opened up a whole new world to me. It made me realize there was something else out there, something more than just a small country town. There was a whole world out there just waiting to be explored.
I knew I wanted to travel when I left school, but I was only 17 so decided it would be best to begin studying and start traveling once I was over age. Apart from family holidays and the standard Bali trip I just knuckled down and got my Registered Nursing degree. I didn’t know if it was what I wanted to do when I started, I still don’t. Does anybody ever really know? I am incredibly glad that I stuck with it though because it’s been a great career to come and go from and facilitate my travel habits. I love working as a nurse and love coming back to it while I am home in Australia. For now though, while I am traveling I just enjoy embracing the opportunities that come my way as there is always a learning experience in everything I do and every situation I am in.
When and where did your wanderlust journey start?
My adventures began back in 2013. I had already committed to spending 10 months abroad but decided a pre-adventure adventure would be fun. A friend I had worked with in Adelaide was traveling through Asia and his next stop was India, he invited me along to join him in India, probably thinking that I wouldn’t take him up on the offer. Me being me though, I booked my flights and within a week and touched down in New Delhi. For any one who has been to India, you’ll know this is no way to ease yourself into travel. This is diving off a cliff into the deep end. It was a complete assault on every sense. The smells, sounds, and colors are so unique to India I still smile to myself whenever I am reminded of them. It was and still is one of my greatest trips. From the Taj Mahal to standing amongst elephants in Ramnagar National Park, looking out over the Himalayas to the bustling streets of Haridwar before a Ganga Aarti ceremony. Swimming in the Ganges at sunset and the food….oh the food. I think this trip gave me the confidence I needed to quite literally take on the world. It showed me that anything was possible and that I was possible of anything.
Where has your curiosity taken you so far? Where to next?
From India, I came back home for a very brief few weeks before repacking my bags again. I had committed to work at a summer camp called Kenmont Kenwood situated just 2 and a half hours from New York City in the state of Connecticut. I spent the summer driving ski boats and instructing children how to wakeboard and ski during the day and at nighttime, I looked after the 15-year-old girls, or they looked after me I’m really not sure. Camp brings together people from all over the world and the U.S.A, so I spent the next few months bouncing around The States with no real pattern or plan. It definitely was not the cheapest or smartest way to do things but I had a blast along the way. I would meet up with friends here and there, meet strangers along the way who soon became friends. It all seems like a blur now, the flights and road trips all blending together.
The only thing I had planned ahead for was to meet a friend (Ella) in Mexico, so soon enough I had to hop across the southern border. From there we planned to stumble our way through Central America and stumble we did. Between us, we could speak about 20 words of Spanish, had zero plans and little to no money. There were plenty of Adventures had to bus it the whole way from Mexico down to Panama. We managed to spend some quality time in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Panama along the way. My time in Central America is remembered by constantly exploring, we would spend days hiking through jungles, swimming in cenotes, frolicking on beaches and of course the Central America would not be complete without the odd chicken bus ride here or there. The standout of the trip was us sitting in the dirt in Honduras trying to enter into Nicaragua our bags were being searched and a shady traveler that had attached herself to us announced that she had some drugs in her bag. Ella at one point began sobbing and saying she just wanted to go home and be with her Mum. I, on the other hand, was loving the adventure of it all. We later found out that we paid $120 USD and the locals had paid $16. Needless to say, not long after that, we decided that it would be best to travel with just the two of us again.
From Panama, we spent 5 days sailing the San Blas Islands and went to Colombia. El spent the 5 days of island hopping seasick. Perhaps she may have a different recollection of this section than I did but it was a beautiful 5 days surrounded by nothingness. On the final night, we were greeted by a full moon and all spent the evening out on the deck admiring the bioluminescence that would light up with every wave we cut through. It was a truly breathtaking experience that you had to see to believe. In Colombia we once again hit the buses, taking them all the way from Cartagena down to Cusco in Peru. The people we met and places we saw to vastly differing. As most travelers know though, you never have to go far to find some Australians. We kept bumping into the same ones again and again. Finally in Peru Ella’s bad run in the trip overcame her. She got struck down with a parasite the day before we were due to hike Machu Picchu. She soldiered on and we made it to the top of that heavenly place, but a few days later she decided to head home so she could recover properly. I continued on solo for the rest of my adventure, braving the border crossings alone. I went onto Bolivia, Argentina and ended my trip with an epic weeklong celebration of Carnival Festival in Brazil.
I spent three short months at home in Australia working, but soon enough I returned to camp for another summer in Connecticut. After camp, I made a quick trip to Miami and then met up with Jess and Rhiannon for a spontaneous catch up in Costa Rica. With another quick trip back to Miami to pick up the American Boy I’d fallen in love with the year prior at camp we headed back to Australia. The great thing about having a partner from abroad is that I’ll always have an excuse to travel, whether it be in his country or mine. We went on some epic Aussie adventures; the best was our road trip up to Alice Springs, visiting the McDonnell Rangers and out to Uluru. Australia is an amazing place so it was great to be able to show it off and be a tourist in my own country for once. Chad then went home, yes my American Boy’s name is Chad, very predictable I know. I stayed for another couple of months to work and prepare for my next trip.
The next adventure took me to the tropical paradise on Bora Bora. I was finally to meet Chad’s Dad who lives on a small island there. Needless to say, I was excited about this trip. Bora Bora had always been one of those far off places that sounded so exotic. A place I would only ever dream of traveling to, but fate threw me this half American half Tahitian man that I fell in love with and that was all the excuse I needed to go there. Dreams come true, they really do! We spend three weeks in and around Bora Bora. Chad’s Dad lives simply and beautifully on an island with no electricity or running water. We slept in a hut that his family and father had built for us and listened to the waves crash over the reef and the lagoon lap against his island in the evening. He works as a tour guide so we tagged along with the tourists feeding the stingrays and swimming with the sharks. We spent the other days fishing for our food, touring deserted islands and snorkeling the surrounding reefs. It was truly a unique experience to go to Bora Bora and experience it with the locals and see things from their perspectives. It was an honor I will cherish forever. In one of my far off dreams for the future, I would love to live there for a few years and just live the simple life with Chad and that side of his family.
We flew from Bora Bora and headed from Miami up to Connecticut to spend another American summer at camp. This time, leaving Australia, I knew I wouldn’t be back for a while. Long distance wasn’t something either of us could keep doing so I committed to being in America for an extended period whilst Chad finished his degree. I had no real plan I was just winging it. Luckily through camp, you find plenty of connections so I reached out to some families living in Southern Florida and within a few weeks I had snagged a job as a nanny/ PA in Miami. Before I started I did a little more traveling just around the states, the highlight was taking a 5-day hike in Yosemite National Park with a friend. It was hard work for the unfit, like me, but the views and serenity were absolutely worth it.
I returned from my hike with some newly found inner peace and a couple fewer toenails and made a quick visa run to Costa Rica. I flew back to Miami and started living and working in that crazy city for 18 months. The family I was working for became like my own and I got to experience some incredible things with them, the highlight being the Bahamas. They were also kind enough to let me return to my second home, Kenmont Kenwood Camp for another summer in amongst that as well. In December I finally returned to Australia after my stint living and working abroad, although I only stayed for 5 months. That brings us to about now…..As I am writing this I am now at Summer camp in Connecticut…. AGAIN!!!
Wow did I really do all of that?! Some of it feels like a different lifetime.
What keeps you going back to Kenmont Kenwood Camp?
Wow. Honestly, this question still puzzles me. We are now in full swing here at camp with over 500 campers and 300 staff. This is my fifth summer working for this camp and every year I say I’m not coming back, yet every year here I am. Camp is a magical place if you let it be. It is its own little bubble that ‘real world’ problems can’t infiltrate. I have not seen a news article in weeks; I have no idea what is actually happening out there in the real world. Here at camp, we live an unplugged lifestyle. Meaning that the campers never see or use screens our counselors aren’t to use screens in front of the campers and everyone just connects on a face to face level. I met my partner here, I have life long friends here and the kids here I have watched grow up for the past 5 years.
The relationships you form at a summer camp such as ours are true and genuine. There is nothing to hide behind, there is no social media mask, there is no texting or messaging. Everything is handled on such a personal level that means the bonds formed here are truly for life. The girls are all sisters and the boys are brothers. Families have been coming to this camp for generations. The campers can’t wait to come back as counselors. It is just a safe place where everybody, including the adults, can push and extend their comfort zones with out fear of failure or judgment. The people that I work beside aren’t just colleagues or friends anymore, they’re family. There isn’t one specific thing that keeps me coming back year after year; it’s a multitude of things, none of which are tangible. This place is magic, but only if you let it be.
What kind of jobs are available at camp?
The jobs available at summer camps differ greatly from camp to camp. You have many different types of camps from traditional camps to performing arts camp, sports camps, religious camps, outdoor adventure camps, day camps, sleep away camps, camps that go for one week, camps that go for 8 weeks. It is a huge industry that, until you enter, you have no idea it even exists, aside from watching The Parent Trap.
You can honestly find anything to do at camp. Just for example, here at Kenmont Kenwood, we have specialists that teach the following:
Swimming, Sailing, Kayak/Paddleboarding, Waterskiing, Dance, Yoga, High Ropes Courses, Cooking, Theatre, Jewellery, Pottery, Arts, and Crafts, Go Karts, Tennis, Soccer, Softball, Archery, Volleyball, Skateboarding, Baseball, Basketball, Gymnastics, Street Hockey, Fitness, Pioneering.
You get the idea, this camp offers just about everything you can ever imagine. You don’t have to be a specialist though. We have general counselors that walk around and attend all the activities with the younger campers, we have head staff that manages camper groups and staff groups, we have cleaners, cooks, drivers, landscapers, and maintenance staff. It is like its own little world, you can always find a job that is suited to you in a summer camp.
What does a typical peak season day at camp look like?
A typical day at camp greatly varies depending on what your role here is. I started here as a water ski counselor. So this can be from that perspective. I would wake up with my kids in the morning. I always had the 15-year-old girls. We would clean up our bunk and go to breakfast. After breakfast, I would go down to the lake. The day is broken up into activity periods, similar to that in high school. We have six activity periods in each day so during these I would be teaching different age group campers how to ski, wakeboard and kneeboard as well as taking them tubing. It was my job to drive the boats, instruct and lifeguard the campers whilst they were at the lake. I would always eat lunch with my campers and then rejoin them again for dinner. We would spend the evenings together as a group doing all kinds of fun activities and games like Rainbow War, Zoo Escape and Ms. Unexplainable. At night you would spend time with the campers and all go to sleep together in the cabins. As for the campers, they get to choose each day what they want to be doing. They nominate what activities they want to participate in so that their days are filled with things they love doing. The counselors are here to facilitate that. There are always crazy special events days thrown into camp as well. Here we do a College Day which involves the campers being broken up into teams competing against one another in various sports. We have carnival day where we hire in inflatable castles, slides, and rides and the kids get to run around and enjoy a carnival for the day. We have trip days where the campers get off camp for a day and go to water parks or theme parks for the day. Towards the end of camp, everyone is broken up into two teams and they have a 5-day competition called Colour War. During this time the campers and staff at times compete in every activity of camp for points. At the end of the five days, the winning team goes down in history and takes home eternal glory. A day at camp is hard to explain because two days are never really the same. That’s the beauty of camp!
So I know what I’m in for and I’m super keen, how does the application & interview process work?
American: If you’re an American citizen it’s super easy to apply to work at a summer camp. It’s just like any other job, you find one you like and you contact them directly and apply for the positions available.
International: If you are applying from overseas it’s a little more complicated but still relatively easy. If you find a camp you absolutely love and want to apply you can contact them directly. If you’re a little overwhelmed with a number of camps out there and have no idea where to start that’s ok as well. Every International camp counselor needs a visa. The Camp Counselors visa falls under the J1 visa class, meaning that you need to be sponsored to get the visa. This is where agencies come in. There are many reputable agencies out there and different ones are more popular in different countries. Some popular sponsor agencies are CCUSA, Camp America, and Camp Leaders. These are people dedicated to helping you find a job, helping you get the visa and supporting you the entire time you’re away. They talk you through the process give you step by step instructions and make a process that can be complicated super easy.
They have a huge database that I liken to a dating website. You input all of your information, qualifications and what areas you’re interested in working in. The camps then can search specific roles they need to fill or people and they will make contact with you via the agency. You will then most likely have a Skype interview or two and perhaps if you’re lucky enough you may meet a camp director on one of their recruiting trips. If they like everything you have to offer then they will make you a job offer. Then it’s time to get your visa and once that is all sorted out it’s as easy as booking your flights and you’re on your way. Any extra qualifications they require you to have e.g. Lifeguarding courses generally camps pay for and have people come in and take these courses prior to the campers arriving.
Approximately how much investment is involved? Flights, courses, visas etc…
The cost of working at a summer camp would amount to around $750 USD excluding flights. The agency fees for sponsorship are around $500 and the visa costs are about $250. Obviously, flights are dependent on where you’re coming from and how far in advance you can book them. Most international staff, you will find aren’t here to earn a great deal of money. It is very much about the experience. Working at a summer camp is a great way to live overseas for an extended period of time with little to no expenses. Camp pays for food and provides accommodation, so it’s just spending money you need to worry about once you’re here.
What are the living conditions like?
The accommodation provided by camps again differs greatly from camp to camp.
Some provide staff housing that might be shared with other adults, you may have a room to yourself, or as most people are you live in the bunks with the campers. In this case and here at Kenmont Kenwood the campers or staff all live in cabins with all the amenities you need. It’s got beds, bathrooms, and electricity. Some camps have more luxurious accommodation and some camps people sleep in tents. It’s best to do your research and ask lots of questions before you commit to any camp!
Is working at camp something you’d recommend to teenagers fresh out of high school or is it beneficial to gain some life experience first?
There are pluses and minuses to doing camp at any age. The majority of staff working at summer camps are around 21 years of age, the legal drinking age in the USA is 21 so it is difficult for International staff to come and get the full American experience if they’re under 21. Not that it’s all about drinking that’s for sure. You really just need a certain amount of maturity and if someone, at any age, decides they want to pick up their life for a few months and go aboard for an incredible experience then in my books you’re already mature enough.
Apart from loving kids and the outdoors, what personal qualities make for a valuable Camp Counselor?
Yes. Loving kids is essential. You will be around them. All day. Everyday. Other qualities that make great camp counselors are integrity, initiative, enthusiasm, maturity, good time management skills, patience, the ability to work as part of a team, responsible, fun loving, adventurous and you must be a problem solver, motivated and have a strong work ethic. This will undoubtedly be one of the greatest, hardest and most rewarding jobs you ever have. You get out what you put in. The reward is worth the effort.
Are there any specific Camps you’d recommend? What should people look for when researching?
My best advice is simply to do your research. There are so many different types of camps, so many different jobs on offer and across so many states in the USA. Write out your top priorities of things you’re looking for in a summer camp, what type of job you’re wanting at camp, the location, the type of camp. Find out the camps that match your wish list. So many camps have amazing websites that you can check out. If you’re feeling a little lost in it all though here’s a link of the top summer camps in the USA. http://www.topeducationdegrees.org/50-most-amazing-summer-camps-in-the-u-s/
In my eyes, if there are happy campers most likely there is also happy staff so that’s a great place to start. Just remember though at the end of the day, it’s the agencies role to find you a job at a camp so don’t spend a huge amount of time stressing over where to go.
What advice would you give to those dreaming of working at an American Summer Camp?
Come with no expectations only an open mind. Embrace everything that camp throws at you, the good, the bad and the just plain crazy some times. Don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself, embrace your inner weirdo! Make the most of every experience here, you never know if you’ll be back. Camp is a magical place, but only if you let it be. What I mean by that is that you have to immerse yourself wholly into this world, cherish every moment and experience. Switch off from reality and all of your worries will disappear. At times you’ll manage to feel like a kid again, stress-free without a care in the world.
What are you top 5 destinations in the whole wide world?
Finally, after 5 years of continuous summer, I’m craving some wintery weather. Ask me again tomorrow though and I am sure this list would have changed.
How have you evolved as a traveler over time?
I think the days of backpacking for months at a time are long behind me, unfortunately. Now I look for the beauty in nature and the simple things. I love to go on hiking adventures, long road trips, and aimless wanderings. I enjoy blurring the lines between being a tourist and a local, take the time to really look around and get to know a place.
What are the 3 most important things travel has taught you about life?
- To always go with the flow and enjoy the ride
- Never plan things too far in advance
- In the end, everything has a way of working itself out so don’t sweat the small things.
Related Article ~ 10 Valuable Life Lessons Learnt Working & Living Abroad In 2016
What are your essential travel items?
I’m not a things person. All I need is my passport, some local currency, and good company.
What inspires you?
The challenge of always looking for a new experience and seeing things I’ve never seen before. Pushing my own boundaries and comfort zone. Everyday people inspire me, my family, my friends the beauty the world has to offer.
If you only had one week to live how would you spend your last moments?
With only a week to live, I would spend it at my families’ river house, surrounded by everyone I love. Catching up, enjoying each others company with plenty of good conversation, good food, and good wine.
What is your definition of success?
Success to me is directly attributed to happiness. If you lead a happy and wholesome life than you’ve been successful. To have loved, laughed and experienced things is what makes me happy. If I live my life doing these things then I will be successful by my definition of the word.
Favorite travel books?
Shantaram and Marching Powder
Where can we follow your journey on social media?
I’m a long way behind the eight ball with social media. Just got myself an Instagram account a few months ago. I decided it was finally time I did something with all my travel photos. You can find me at morgan.lloyde