I can still vividly remember the day that I accepted my placement at Camp Carysbrook. It was New Year’s Day.
‘Dear Olivia! Thank you for accepting your Camp America placement!’.
‘New year new me!’ I joked to my parents, but little did I know how true those words would be. Immediately once I hit accept I was flooded with an array of emotions and questions. Firstly elation and excitement, lost in thought about what an experience of a lifetime this would be, but then anticipation and doubt began to set in. Questions whirling around my head; have I made the right decision – to give up a solid job that I have been in for 2 and a half years? Will I fit in with the other staff members – everyone seems to know each other already? Will I be capable to fulfill the expectations I promised? Fear of the unknown was setting in, and for the first time in a while I was out of my comfort zone. I realised that I was leaving behind familiarity and routine to embark on this new adventure. Little did I know that this ‘adventure’ would change me in more ways than I could ever imagine.
The next 5 months passed by so fast and before I knew it I was saying goodbye to friends and family, and onboard my flight to Virginia. Although I was overwhelmed with excitement there was still a niggling sense of uncertainty and hesitation, but by the end of my first week at camp I realised why I was here. All feelings of apprehension and fear had melted away and the next 7 weeks flew by far too quickly. A day never went by that I was fed up with teaching. In fact, it was the reason that made me jump out of bed in the morning full of motivation and positivity, ready to take on the day. Being able to connect and bond with campers, impart my knowledge and share my passion / experience with horses was so empowering. But one of the best parts was that this connection not only happened through the barn. Camp’s unique structure enabled me to create connections with the rest of camp, not just with those I taught. Simple things like collecting sticks together for campfire, seeing the excitement on their face when it was time for s’mores, watch them shine in their element on performance night, listening to them talk about what activities they had visited that day, what they saw at nature, what they made at Arts and Crafts, that difficult move they learnt at dance, that backward handspring they had perfected, or simply they had tried a new activity they never imagined they could do and loved it. To me, this didn’t feel like just your average summer job, it was so much more than that. I was seeing girls transform over the duration of their time at camp, no matter how long or short their stay, gradually transitioning away from the outside world, away from peer pressure, the constant distraction of social media, body shaming, materialism and the general pressures of society. Just girls, including myself, having fun, being allowed to be themselves and embrace the environment around them.
The days seemed long, but the weeks short, and before I knew it another change over day loomed, and I was waving off sad faces, and greeting beaming smiles as the next session rolled in. Before I could blink the summer was over, and I was the one packing my case. Where had the time gone? It felt like staff week was yesterday, and now all of a sudden this group of 20 strangers that I was scared I wouldn’t ‘fit in with’ had become my camp family, supporting and guiding me through my 7 week journey.
Who knew you could learn so much about yourself that you didn’t before in just 7 weeks?
Camp taught me skills like the importance of organisation, the attributes of a respected leader, how to manage a team effectively, how imperative communication is for smooth operation, how utilising a simple 5 minutes of your time to debrief each camper after a session made them feel important and individual. But camp not only taught me new skills, it made me realise skills I already had, that I am a strong, resilient woman, who is flexible and able to adapt to change and new challenges, that I am a role model to my campers and that they aspired to be like the staff who taught them, that I am capable of thinking on my feet, using my own initiative to problem solve and manage my own stress and emotions as well as others around me, that I am compassionate, empathetic, patient and encouraging which altogether enabled me to become a competent and confident coach not only at the barn, but in my cabin and throughout camp. It made me realise that it’s okay to not be at my peak everyday because we are all human, but, most importantly, camp taught me to embrace individuality and uniqueness, to not blend in with the crowd because, after all, there is only one you.
Since camp has ended I have become more focused and driven to step out, make my voice and opinions heard. To not sit back and watch life pass me by, but to venture out and achieve the goals I have set myself. That just one person has the ability to impact and change the world; take every opportunity and grab it with both hands. So if you were like me, hesitant and apprehensive about taking that leap of faith, then throw caution to the wind, because if I could give every girl the opportunity to spend a summer at Carysbrook to find themselves, like I have done, then I would.
Liv Smith, Staff 2017