Friday, July 27, 2012

Common Experience: things students often say when they come back from camp

Session I and Session II counselors have finished their reflection papers by now and turned them in. Session III is doing theirs this coming week and for Session IV the due date is a yet distant horizon that they are probably enjoying not thinking about.

Not all of the papers have been read yet, but there are certain things we bet we'll see in a lot of them. Over the next couple of weeks, we'll be sharing some quotes from papers of years past and some examples of the most common experiences students share when they come back from camp. Did you have a similar experience?

I survived night duty

Everyone has to do it at least once at camp. Everyone takes a turn at being on night duty. For some people, the night goes smoothly and without incident. For others, it is an epic eight hour period spent putting campers back to bed, helping calm down campers who are homesick, and dealing with the occasional angry camper who doesn't like to sleep. On these nights, you catch whatever sleep you can whenever you can. I myself spent one night half-indoors and half-outdoors, literally. No, I mean half my body was inside and half was outside. The idea was that the campers who kept trying to escape into the woods for night time hijinks would step on my head and wake me up. Yeah, kids week has its ups and downs.

One of the great things about night duty though is the student response to it. We have heard great things back from students who had a harrowing night duty experience but found it to inspire them to a greater level of understanding of their camper and how difficult it can be for some people just to make through each night. Below is a story from last year that captures both the difficulty of camp and the incredible pay off.
The air was freezing on the porch at 10:34pm with a large deck light which inevitably attracted swarms of creepy crawly insects. This further aided in my fear of how the night would destroy me. "I want woodpecker! I WANT that one! JULIA WANTS WOODPECKER!" This was already my second week as a counselor at Camp Kiwanis, but all the confidence I had built up since day one was now plummeting rapidly. The behavior specialist handed me a Natural Geography coloring book, the camper's prescribed lip balm, and a black walkie-talkie. She whispered, "Ok... so as you can tell, Julia isn't adjusting well to sleeping on the porch." And then in a slightly louder voice, "we need you to go to sleep, Julia. You can have the coloring book in the morning if you are good tonight. Do you understand, Julia?" Screaming billowed from inside the yellow and green tent, which violently quivered from some rather aggressive kicks...
... I thought that Julia didn't belong at camp. I thought that her obsessions, violent tantrums, and inabilities to bond with others were too much to overcome. It was my fear that made me preemptively deem her as somehow an unfit person for camp, but I was completely missing the point. Fear holds all of us back. Fear is the only thing that causes us to avoid others, to avert eyesight when we see someone begging for change, to clutch our bags when someone of another race approaches, to turn down applicants-for-hire because they use a wheelchair to roll up to the counter...
It wasn't an easy night; it wasn't a comfortable or even a successful night for my record as a counselor. But the most important thing is that I learned all obstacles are climbable with the right amount of determination and a certain degree of faith. They didn't give up on Julia, and she went on to have the best possible experience at camp that she could have... the worst part of the night, and the thing I regret the most, is how my own fear kept me from accepting Julia's participation at camp... by the end of the week I found out how funny she could be, I saw her smile, and learned more about her as a person. My fear kept me from connecting with her, but compassion and understanding allowed me to get to know a beautiful person worth knowing.

I can't seem to tell others about it

One thing I think most people feel when they get back from camp is that they've left something behind. I felt this way and it took me a long time to put a finger on what it was. In the end, I realized that it was the camaraderie of the group. The people in my group had become like family to me. We relied on each other; we knew each other's strengths and weaknesses and didn't judge any of them. We had laughed together, a few of us had cried together, we had all been through a very difficult experience together and survived, we had all reaped the rewards of sticking out the program.

I haven't seen any of those people since, except in the briefest of passings. Camp is a special place, and special rules apply. When we got back to Portland, we went our separate ways and continued on with our lives. Some of my group members aren't even in the country any more and there's a chance we'll never see each other again. But we'll always have shared a special moment that no one else can understand in quite the same way. One counselor expresses this in the quote below.

At the beginning of our two weeks at camp we were told to look around at all the other counselors, because there were the people who would become our support, our friends, these were the only other people who would understand what would go on during our two weeks... We started out as strangers, and we left a family. I cannot imagine living out the rest of my life without those beautiful people around me. I was talking to my father about my fellow counselors in my group and he looked at me and said that I sounded as though I had been to war, that was how I explained the connection I felt to my new friends. It made me stop and think. MHKC is nothing like going to war, but we leave our worlds behind and enter into a situation so different than anything we have ever experience. We are put together with this group of people who live through it with us and we help each other. We lifted each other's spirits when we became discouraged, we laughed together, we cried together, we became protective of each other and defended each other. The love I have for my fellow counselors continues to astound me... It was true what we were told: we are the only ones who understand what happened on the mountain those two weeks. My friends at home listen and try to imagine but they have no idea what it was really like.

If you have your own story to share or want to say, "yeah, I totally understand what those counselors are saying!" then please comment here or on our facebook page. We look forward to sharing more stories with you soon.

1 comment:

  1. Reading these different stories is like reading my own thoughts about my time spent at camp. In the weeks that have followed coming back from camp, I too have felt like I'm missing something. Reading about the sentiments of camaraderie nailed it on the head. I too have spent countless hours, even now, talking about the experience of camp and while I am often met with interest, curiosity, and fascination, no one has ever truly understood what that experience was like. I now have a good friend who would like to come to one of the Thursday BBQ and skit nights up at camp so she can see what my experience was like. Even then though, it is weird. It wasn't MY experience, not mine alone at all. While each and every person up at camp - camper, counselor, or staff - has their own unique stories and things they took and experienced from camp, camp teaches you to look beyond you and really focus on the people around you. So, when I think of camp, I think of OUR experience. The camp family. While I miss the people that I got to spend those incredible weeks with, I too find comfort in knowing that, while I may never see some of them again, that they are out there, and they too know what those 2 weeks were. What they meant. What we experienced. There is a group of people out in the world that I was able to share an incredible experience, be incredibly vulnerable with, rely on, and bond with. Camp is more than a camp, it is a life experience. A beautiful and rewarding (and at times rather frustrating) one at that.