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JENZA Talk / Summer camp

Why summer camp in the USA was worth every cent

Life lessons around the campfire. Roadtester Hannah shares her adventure at summer camp in Maine and beyond...

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Hey there, fellow adventurers! My Name is Hannah, a 19 year old from Perth Western Australia who has nearly finished a second gap year. I love being outdoors, spending time at the beach with friends and most importantly travelling, which is why summer camp was the perfect experience for me.

If you're reading this, you're probably wondering what it's like to leave behind the familiar and embark on a life-changing journey to summer camp in America. I was in your shoes just a few months ago, and today, I want to share my unforgettable experience to encourage you to take that leap of faith and sign up for camp (you won’t regret it).

Picture this: It's June 2023, and I'm leaving my family and friends behind, embarking on a 30-hour, 18,455-km journey to Maine. Sounds like a lot right. So why did I choose to do that to myself? Well, to me summer camp meant exploring a new country, meeting people from diverse backgrounds, immersing myself in different cultures, and nurturing my passion for working with children in a completely unique setting. Now, three months later, I can confidently say that it was the best decision I ever made.

First day feels

When I first arrived at camp, I was welcomed with open arms by our enthusiastic camp directors. I won't lie; that first night was overwhelming. My nerves were getting the best of me as I was introduced to the camp's technology-free policy, and I was shown to my new home for the summer - a cabin where I'd be living for the next three months. But as the door closed behind the director, I quickly realised I wasn't alone. One of my bunkmates for staff training arrived, and that's when the adventure truly began.

Finding my feet (and friends)

Jetlag had me up at 5:30AM the next morning, and I took that time to sit on the cabin porch and soak in the beauty of the surroundings. By 8AM, we were all at breakfast, and any lingering uncertainties vanished. I had been assigned to the waterfront team, where I got to know my fellow boat drivers and I spent the first day out on the lake. Even in less-than-ideal weather that day remains one of my fondest camp memories. We bonded over card games and late-night chats, wrapping things up at our 11:30 PM bedtime curfew.

Within the first few days of staff training, I knew I'd made lifelong friends, friends from all around the world. Camp was a total of nine weeks, including two weeks of training and seven weeks with the kids. Staff training was an absolute blast! During the first week, I spent most of my time with my waterfront team, learning the ropes of boat driving, water-skiing, wakeboarding, and enjoying endless "swim parties." After that initial week, I felt like I'd known them all for years.

Staff training wasn't just about fun though; it included ice-breaker games as well as important information about camp routines and safety. We got a taste of all the activities, trips, and competitions we'd be sharing with the kids. My personal fave was the Lip Sync contest. My team was team 'Australia' (naturally) and we re-created "Cruisin' for a Bruisin'," winning us some delicious ice cream. We also got to explore Portland for the first time, trying the famous ice cream from Fielder's Choice, which became a fan favourite for the rest of the summer.

On the job

Camp Northstar is unique in that it doesn't have "general counsellors" who follow the same group of children throughout the camp. Instead, each counsellor is assigned a speciality role, like boat driver, lifeguard, rock climbing, sports, arts and many others.

At night, we became cabin counsellors, responsible for a cabin of about 10 kids, guiding them through their daily routines and serving as their go-to person for any concerns. This setup allowed me to connect closely with a smaller group of kids while also sharing my passion for water sports and swimming as a member of the waterfront team.

Camp = living in the moment

From the moment the first child arrived at camp to the day we bid farewell to the last one, the entire camp experience felt like a blur of excitement. Watching kids stand up on water skis for the first time, attending a real-life baseball game, exploring Portland on our days off, and sharing daily banter with the water sports team made Camp NorthStar feel like a dream come true. The limited use of technology only strengthened our connections and friendships, allowing us to fully embrace every moment.

As the nine weeks flew by, it became increasingly difficult to say goodbye to the place that had become my home. After packing up and saying some emotional farewells, I was fortunate not to part ways with everyone. A group of ten of us decided to head off on our next adventure together. I was super lucky that I found my camp besties quickly and from the get go we had our hearts set on travelling together. We spent many of our last few nights off finding Airbnb’s and figuring out where we wanted to go. We had all come to camp with the same idea of travelling despite the fact none of use knew anyone coming in.

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Camp crew on tour

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Working on the water

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Happy campers in Maine

Hannah enjoys a day at summer camp with a friend

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hannah Logan

JENZA Summer Camp USA roadtester

It was a tough job, but someone had to do it. Our roadtesters trial and shape every JENZA experience to make sure it serves our travel community first. Because if it didn't fly with them, it's not going to fly with you.

"Camp NorthStar was worth every cent and every second. The people I met and the memories I created will last a lifetime."

Post camp adventures

We kicked off this new journey by renting a U-Haul to accommodate all our luggage. We then piled into three vehicles and drove 4 hours to Boston, where we spent two amazing days exploring the city. Next, it was a 6-hour drive to New Jersey, and seeing the New York City skyline for the first time was a butterflies in stomach moment. The first two weeks of our travels were surprisingly stress-free as we stayed in friendly Airbnb accommodations. We explored places like Atlantic City boardwalk, New York and Jersey making unforgettable memories along the way.

New York was everything I had imagined, with Times Square feeling like I had stepped into a photograph - an unreal experience. We even got to visit the Natural History Museum and, of course, Central Park. A highlight of my New York visit was watching 'Six the Musical' live on Broadway. Navigating the subway and PATH trains turned out to be more manageable than I expected and having friends with me made it an exciting adventure rather than a stressful one. We spent another day at the beach, savouring our last moments together before parting ways (cries).

Luggage hack: Some friends and I decided to put some of our bags in storage , we did this in Newark NY, all over the city and in most airports you can go onto an app and book you’re bags in! We all put out biggest bags in and just travelled with hand luggage making the next few weeks of travel a hell of a lot easier.

After New York, I headed to Wisconsin with one of my fellow counsellors, road-tripping for 20 hours and making stops in Cleveland and Michigan before spending a week there with his welcoming family. It was so comforting being with a family again and not having to worry about making plans and felt surreal getting to hang with the locals.

For my final week I headed to North Carolina, where I met up with more friends from camp. This leg of the journey was a bit more stressful, involving a 13-hour bus ride to New York because the train was sold out. However, we were lucky to meet the incredibly kind Ms. Lisa who we met at an UPS store (printing place), who took us under her wing and showed us immense kindness that kept our spirits high. She asked why we had our bags with us and then gave us the run-down of the area we were staying near. She couldn’t believe we had 6 hours to kill in the town and immediately began making plans, calling our Airbnb host, taking us shopping and then picking us up the next day to take us to the bus! Last stop for me was Philadelphia where I caught up with a family friend who is studying at UPenn and had a grand tour of the city and the college- it was amazing.

Time to say goodbye

After an incredible three months, it was time to make the long journey back to Perth. Exhausted, exhilarated, and excited to organise my next adventure I was glad to be home but wouldn’t have changed the last few months for anything.

Camp NorthStar was worth every cent and every second. The people I met and the memories I created will last a lifetime. I wholeheartedly recommend this opportunity to anyone even remotely interested. It's a chance to discover the world, build lifelong friendships, and grow as an individual. So, don't hesitate - take that leap of faith and sign up for the adventure of a lifetime! Your future self will thank you for it.

Ready to make summer 2024 the stuff of legends? Camp applications for 2024 are open now with interviews happening in October. Whether you're a seasoned camper or a first-timer, we've got epic adventures, lifelong friendships, and non-stop fun waiting for ya. Check out our JENZA Camp page for all the details on how to apply.

Hannah enjoys a day at summer camp with a friend

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hannah Logan

JENZA Summer Camp USA roadtester

It was a tough job, but someone had to do it. Our roadtesters trial and shape every JENZA experience to make sure it serves our travel community first. Because if it didn't fly with them, it's not going to fly with you.

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