Growing up shy and reclusive, sleepaway camp gave me everything. I vividly remember my first summer. I found myself in an unfamiliar environment with unfamiliar faces, I didn’t have my parents and I lived in an old creaky cabin with no AC. But despite that, I never felt more at home. Although I’m not one for clichés, but I can truly say I fell in love with camp at first sight. The love only grew stronger as the summers grew more numerous. The friendships turned into sisterhood, and I blossomed into the best version of myself.
Fast forward 12 years later and I am back in unfamiliar territory. But this time I’m not driving into the inviting gates of camp, but rather my freshman year of college. I am not here to tell you that camp and college are the same, though they do share similarities.
I will, however, tell you that sleepaway camp prepped me for college at the ripe age of eight. From navigating dining hall food to ~interesting~ roommates, all the expertise that got me through a more than rough transition period from my Los Angeles bubble, to living in the forest at University of California Santa Cruz came from my home away from home, URJ Camp Newman.
Every day spent at camp and every memory made has really just served as a lesson in disguise. Through camp, I’ve learned how to be as creative in my dining hall as I am in art class. Eating the same food after each hot summer’s day can feel repetitive quickly. I also have a strong intuition for how to live with new people. Every camp kid knows the struggle of a messy bunkmate, or even worse, one that moves in their sleep and shakes those creaky old beds. Luckily for me college beds do not creak, but unfortunately dorm rooms might actually be smaller than cabins.
Instead of playdates arranged by my mom, camp set me up for success by giving me everything I need to develop my own strong relationships. Learning how to make my own friendships at such a young age allowed me not only mature, but become independent in my relationship to others and my relationship to myself.
I have met lots of people where college serves as their first time living away from home. That’s not the case for us camp kids though, because we know the drill. In college, with independence comes unstructured free time. At first I had no idea what to do, as I’ve grown used to a busy lifestyle. But I quickly realized I had answers right in front of me this whole time. After all, being a camp counselor is nothing more than improvisation. Quiet nights turned into mattress surfing, Friday afternoons turned into frisbee games and capture the flag, friendship bracelets, endless games of mafia, card games and the list goes on. Camp allowed me to be resourceful, and use my new found independence to my advantage.
Although the transition to college is nowhere near easy, camp makes starting over just a tad bit less scary. And as I get older, one thing remains constant: My love for camp, my love for my friends and my immense gratitude for forever having a home away from home.