As I left home last July to fly nearly 5,000 miles to summer camp in the Pacific Northwest, it felt easier than ever before. Not only had I made the trip each summer since the age of 12, but I had been newly promoted from camper to counselor-in-training (CT), and the prospective change of role filled me with anticipation.
My CT summer last year was by far my most memorable. I finally had the opportunity to impact the lives of the next generation of campers in the same way my own counselors had impacted mine; however, this chance was equally exhilarating and daunting. While it did motivate me to excel at my job and present the best of myself, it also made me increasingly aware of my perceived shortcomings, especially after witnessing many of my peers thrive in their new roles. One became a prominent and well-respected basketball coach, having played at an elite level all through high school, while another was especially gifted at looking after the youngest children, having helped her father raise her siblings back home. Compared to their successes, I struggled to maintain self-confidence as I did not know if my effort was being equally well-received by the campers.
However, one thing I was proud of by the midpoint of the session was the close friendship I had struck up and nurtured with one of the older campers while teaching his sailing class. This build up of trust culminated in him visiting my table one lunchtime and handing me a crumpled sliver of red paper, before scurrying away with a bashful grin. There is a strong tradition at camp of writing heartfelt letters to those for whom you are grateful, and this was one such note. Upon reading it that evening I collapsed onto my bunk, overcome with emotion. I lay there reflecting and reminiscing until late at night, before delicately tucking the paper into my journal. It detailed not only how I had greatly impacted and improved his camp experience, but that ‘I had become like a brother to him’, which I quote from the letter that is pinned to my bedroom wall even now.
From that moment, my attitude for the rest of the session was markedly more confident, as I had received the assurance I was lacking. I channeled this confidence into teaching, working with the campers, and also into my personal relationships. After thanking my friend for the note, we further connected in an especially memorable conversation, where I shared some of my biggest fears surrounding loneliness, deteriorating friendships with my high school friends, and terrifying upcoming changes in my own life, such as moving abroad for college. In return, he entrusted me with his feelings about his troubled relationship with his parents and how that had affected his mental health, which he later admitted was the first time he had shared that.
The assurance and confidence I gained from the summer did not desert me once I returned home. For one, the practical skills I had gained through counseling made my job as a diving coach far easier, as I had more experience teaching and thus better understood how to productively and positively interact with the young divers. However, the biggest change was in my attitude towards the future. While I confided in my friend about my fear of moving away from the familiarity of home during the summer, upon further consideration it no longer fills me with the same sort of apprehension. The confidence and maturity I nurtured while at camp will continue to serve me well as I move into the next stage of my life.