Sunday, 27 August 2017

Life On Camp | Sandy Ridge Summer 2017 | Camp America

Hello everyone, it has been a little bit longer than I wanted it to be, but hey ho, I'm here now. I've officially been back in the U.K. for a whole month. I've caught up with my family and friends, shown everyone all my pictures, sang endless camp songs in my head and chewed the ear off my boyfriend about daily life on camp. I've now ran out of people to talk to and stories to tell, so I've decided to write a blogpost dedicated to my time spent at a summer camp in America for the past 3 months. This post is mainly for my own memories, something to look back on to remember my days on camp, somewhere to store my favourite pictures and a way to channel all my thoughts about my experience as a camp counsellor. But, if you are thinking of applying to work at a summer camp, or are completely curious as to what it's like, or just enjoy having a good 'ole nose like me, then read on and enjoy! 

So first things first, where was I? What was my job? What did I do? etc etc etc.... On Sunday 21st of May, I started my journey to Camp Sandy Ridge, South Carolina. I flew from Heathrow, London to New York, JFK and then got a connection flight to Charlotte, North Carolina where I was wonderfully greeted by the camp staff. Severely jet-lagged and utterly exhausted, myself along with 5 other internationals that had just flew in, were whisked away to have dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings - I know right, how American! 

Camp Sandy Ridge, South Carolina
We spent 3 weeks on camp before the children actually arrived. When I found this out, I initially thought it was a bit strange. What were we supposed to do for 3 weeks in the middle of the woods in this heat? Turns out, theres A LOT that needs to be done before 80 odd kids flood through the camp gates for a week of fun-filled adventures. The first task on the agenda was Lifeguard & First Aid training. There was no time to rest or settle in, breakfast was called at 8am Monday morning, and by 9am I was jumping into a lake (which to me looked very alligator friendly) and swimming laps to prove I was a trustworthy lifeguard. Lots of bookwork, a couple of storms, a bit of playing dead and some weird underwater movements, we all become American Red Cross certified Lifeguards and First Aiders - woooo! We had a little weekend break, more and more camp staff were arriving and everything was getting so exciting! Next on the agenda was 10 days of Pre-Camp Staff Training. This consisted of everything from team building exercises, child abuse training, extreme kickball and canoe wars. 

So, without further ado, let me introduce myself. Below is my staff picture, as you all know my name is Elle, but the photo below is a girl named Daisy, a Unit Leader who works at Sandy Ridge Girls Scout Camp in South Carolina. It is completely obligatory for all staff to have "camp names" - I must admit at first I thought it was so weird and totally bizarre, I was never going to answer to a different name?! But low and behold, first week of lifeguard training rolls around and I'm tooting my whistle, jumping into a pool, shouting "My name is Daisy, I am a qualified lifeguard and I'm here to assist you!" Who'd have thought?! 

Working as a camp counsellor is hard, in fact it is really hard. You are never really off duty whilst you are on camp, you have to deal with everything from shower time tantrums to phantom midnight pooping. 


Wake up time for me was 6:45am, I gave myself 15 mins to shower, get dressed and out the door to wake my girls up at 7am. I then had to get my girls, however many of them I had that week, up, ready, dressed and outside the dining hall for 7:45am. Now, however hard you think that might be, it is harder. Whether it was moody teenagers or sleepy 7 year olds I was waking up, the mornings were always a struggle. Once I was in that dining hall I knew my day was starting, I could have a cup of tea, and slap a smile on my face. 

We then had a jam packed schedule for everyday, including skill progressions, pool time, arts and crafts, lake time, all camp activities, pick your own, nature hikes, dodgeball, and water fights. There was an hour for lunch and an hour for dinner every day. After dinner we would always do an all camp activity; camp fire, night swims, cook out or games. It wasn't till 9:30pm when the fun really began - shower and bed time. An hour to shower all the girls in 4 showers, get all teeth brushed and hair plaited, medication taken and get them into bed. Lights out was at 11pm, then it was a quick shower, change into pjs, check tomorrows schedule and into bed for me. 

The kids changed every week, arriving on a Sunday and leaving on a Friday, as they say - some you love when they're here and some you love more when they leave.


My first week of kids were absolutely amazing, I had 8 Cadettes, which is the girl scout members between the ages of 11 and 14. I was so nervous through check-in, why on earth was I being trusted to keep 8 children alive for the good part of a week?! All I could think was are they going to like me? What do I say to them? Will they think I'm old and boring? How do I present myself to the parents?! A couple of hours later, I'm sitting on the porch of green cabin with 8 smiling faces, learning names, hobbies, dreams and ambitions. Week 1 of camp was by far my favourite week of them all, my girls were fabulous, each one of them completely different bringing their own attributes to our group.

Throughout the week we did so many fun activities - the girls built a cardboard boat to sail me and Red (another counsellor) across the lake, we went on a wagon ride, faced our fears at the high-ropes course and were successful at creating a solar powered droid - featured below! I was super sad to see these ones go home, I wish I could keep in contact with each and every one of them. Week 1 by far felt the longest week, getting the hang of everything and into the swing of the camp routine, but, it was definitely my favourite week of all. 


Week 2 blessed me with the biggest group of 9-11 year olds. I was the Unit Leader for "You Can't Do That At Camp" which meant that this group was at camp to break the rules, to do everything that you're not supposed to do at camp.

Definitely my most testing week, we stayed up late, ran where we weren't supposed to run, skipped breakfast, watched movies, ordered pizza take out, pranked the admin staff, wore flip flops instead of trainers, toilet papered the camp vehicles and did everything we could to break the rules. On top of this, we did so many activities like zip-lining, playing in the clay pit, exploding paint bombs at arts and crafts, and, of course, playing games in the pool. Below is a picture of me and one of my favourite campers, Jessica, young girls like Jessica are why I've realised that I want to pursue a career involving children. 

Even the staff got to enjoy pool time!


Week 3 was completely different to any other week on camp. I was the Unit Leader of the Counsellors in Training AKA the CITs! I had 8 girls aged between 14 and 17, these girls had come to camp to learn about being a counsellor, to gain experience and shadow other counsellors. This is a fantastic program and really prepares these young girls for when they turn 18 years old and spend their summer working at camp in a paid position. 

There was book work to do, health and safety to learn, interviews to complete and evaluations to do. Every morning I would stand up in front of these lovely young girls and navigate my way through a lesson, guiding them through their CIT handbook. Monday morning I was terrified, having never taught a real life lesson before I didn't have a clue how I was going to do it. I planned the lesson out an hour before it started and just hoped for the best. This is an example of what I will be forever grateful to Sandy Ridge for. Tuesday morning came around and I couldn't wait to stand up at the front of class and lead these girls through the work. I tried to think of new, exciting ways of approaching the information and skills we had to learn. It was week 3 that really got me thinking about my career and what I wanted out of my life. To stand up and inspire young people fills me with an enjoyment I've never felt before and more importantly, camp made me feel like I had a purpose, that being to teach, lead and inspire young people, like these 8 girls. 


Superhero week at Sandy Ridge gave me eleven 7-8 year olds to look after. I moved down to Grady Lodge, a huge cabin specifically for the brownies to live in, with inside toilets and showers, and lots of room for them to run around like the crazy little human beings that they are. I absolutely adored my little brownies, these girls are still so young but it was wonderful to see each and every one of their personalities shine through during camp. Some of them faced fears and new challenges like swimming in deep water, doing the zip line into the lake or jumping off the very top of the inflatable. Others learnt how to look out for their peers, work as a team or be a leader to others. Working with children this age you have to be 100% switched on all time, they wander off, they fall and scrape their knee, they don't eat their lunch, they forget to drink water, they lose their toothbrush - all these things happen ten times a day when working with 7 year olds but you just have to remember that for that week, you are their life. What you say, they take to heart, they will look up to you, look to you for comfort when they are homesick, look to you when they need the answer to a question, it may be a simple answer to you, but to them its a minefield of knowledge out there and you are there to guide them through it.

Throughout my summer at Sandy Ridge I went through every emotion imaginable and it was definitely a life changing experience.

  • I made new friends from across the pond.
  • It inspired me to try new things and travel to new places.
  • If I'm ever feeling down or uninspired I've got hundreds of camp pics to flick through whilst remembering my favourite camp skit or singing a camp song. 
  • The work changed me for the better.
  • It inspired me to pursue that one dream I've always had - to pursue a career involving children. 
  • It taught me to trust myself and my initiative. 
  • The whole summer proved that I am capable of a lot more in life than I ever thought.

The International Staff

Camp Sandy Ridge Staff 2017

The final closing camp fire of summer 2017

Thank you Sandy Ridge and finally....
"This is goodnight and not goodbye"


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