The Essentials: Those Camp Essentials Though

Working at a camp for over a month has been such a fun experience. I’m so happy that I was placed in California – I’m sure New England would have been great but the prospect of travelling cross country across America is so exciting. Before that month long journey begins, however, I have to finish my 10 week contract. I’m in no way complaining. Spending all day at the ropes course, belaying children and coaxing them to the top of the wall or to the leap of faith is unbelievably fun and rewarding, especially since my camp is for underprivileged kids who don’t have much chance for this sort of experience during the rest of the year.

I am one of thousands of Brits that each year leave the UK for the summer to work at an American summer camp. Here are some of the things I think are essential for such a role and an amazing summer.

A Water bottle
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Now, this may be because I’m in the sweltering heat of California, but my water bottle is with me all day, every day, and I honestly rank this as my most important possession on camp. I’m even now of the opinion that you should have a water bottle with you every where (we’ll see how well that mantra holds when I’ve returned to Britain though). Being dehydrated will make you want to strangle your children, aid you in developing a nasty cold (or some other diseases), and cause you to be tired all the time (the desire to harm your kids is the emotion you most want to avoid by the way). This thing is a literal lifesaver, and it cost me $10 from Target. Make the investment yourself.

Shorts
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This is all I wear, 24/7. I really underestimated how many pairs of shorts I would need before I got here. Remember – I’m in California, in the summer. There is dust everywhere and my black sports shorts start to show the dirt about 10 seconds after taking them out of the wash. Despite packing light, I still over packed in terms of pyjamas and tops. I ended up having to buy another pair of shorts from Target (where else!?) so take note potential camp employees.

(Just FYI: I need 3 pairs of shorts for a 5 day session. Other, more fashionable people, need more.)

A Smart Phone
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I know that nowadays most people have smart phones, but for those weary about taking the jump a phone that can connect to the internet is truly essential. Some requirements for said phone: make sure it has a front facing camera for Skyping home, otherwise that’s just awkward; Facebook Messenger, because if you don’t have an American sim card What’s Apping can be interesting, while everyone has Facebook; and either lots of memory space or a Dropbox (or the like) account for the millions of photos you will take. Seriously – the only access to the internet (and WordPress) I can usually get is through my phone, and I’d really miss it if it was gone.

My Kobo eReader
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More technology! For those book lovers this is so important. I could arguably just read from the Kobo app on my phone, but I much prefer the lack of glare and artificial light that is allowed on the paper-like screens of eReaders. I was weary at first about the idea of abandoning hardcopy books in exchange for the electronic version, but when the option is between trying to fit 7 paperbacks in your precious luggage space, contributing to a weight that needs to be as low as possible, and one eReader there’s no competition. Because I can’t forget hard copies all together I try to make a balance of buying a combination. When on the road, however, a little device such as this is indispesible, especially if there is a 6 hour bus ride coming your way.

Other tips:
– Buy a sleeping bag instead of bedsheets and duvets. They’re much easier to move and set up when your moving from cabin to cabin between sessions.
– Buy your toiletries out there as it saves weight in your luggage allowance, and generally is cheaper.
– I find having a rucksack (or backpack) is really helpful just for carrying the random bits and pieces needed in the day around camp.
– Also, it may sound corny but a sense of humour and bucket-loads of patience are absolutely necessary – if this is your first time working with kids and you think it will be easy, think again; they will drive you crazy if you let them.
– Finally, if you are planning on travelling after camp you don’t want to be hauling a 23kg bag around with you. I know its the luggage allowance, but you are probably not going to wear that shiny top or fancy shoes enough to warrant bringing them with you. Pack light and save yourself some trouble later on.

What do you think then? Any essentials that I’ve missed? Let me know below.

Image credit: magazineluiza

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My Fourth of July

As you may be aware I am currently in America for the summer, near Los Angeles to be more precise. I’m working at one of the many American summer camps and loving every second – it is an opportunity that has allowed me to see different facets of American life and culture (take note visa moderators) and meet some awesome people. Fourth of July was for me the pinnacle in this experience so far – I got to hang out with great new friends and enjoy the most American of American days.

4th of July carnival with the best firework display I've seen. Fantastic day

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I started the day at camp avoiding going to the beach. There was a mass exodus of staff heading for the ocean and I didn’t want to be dragged along for a day that would consist only of drinking and maybe going into the water. This left approximately 6 people who stayed behind. I actually really appreciate camp when it’s practically empty as it was on the Fourth – it’s so peaceful. It also means you can do things you wouldn’t usually be able (read: allowed) to do. This time, we got to drive the mule.

It is important to understand that only the most important people get to drive the mule. A little Kawasaki, driving this go-cart is a sign of prestige and a position of power. On the Fourth of July it was all ours. We drove around camp hyped up on adrenaline. We took it to the horses and got to feed and play with them. We visited the baby bunnies at ranch (taking many, many selfies). Half the day was spent revelling in our new found power.

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The afternoon brought a trip to Target. I have been in the US for over a month, working for 6 weeks, meaning 6 weekends off. Last weekend was my first in which I didn’t visit Target. I went on the Fourth for my favourite snack America has been able to offer me, Pretzel M&Ms … and to my horror they were no longer being sold! Why am I telling you this? So if you know of somewhere (anywhere) in the Los Angeles area that sells these incredible sweets, please let me know. I’m in withdrawal and I’m getting desperate.

My favourite food in America #m&ms #pretzel #usfood #USA #campfood

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The evening brought my favourite bit of the day. Some friends and I headed to a school carnival paying $5 for admission; it was worth every penny (or cent, whichever. Still struggling with some language issues!) One Brit, one Aussie and 3 Americans: the Yanks helped us foreigners manage some dangerous terrain – what to eat. We eventually chose nachos and it was an inspired choice.

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The admission ticket essentially paid for one of the best firework displays I have seen that hasn’t been televised: seriously, for a primary school it was really very impressive. Half an hour long and always awe-inspiring it was well worth the five bucks. We were also allowed to witness some brave employees of the sheriff department jump out of an aeroplane, one with a gay pride flag and another with (what else?) an American flag trailing behind them. It was awesome.

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Speaking of the American flag, I think the Fourth of July may be one of the reasons America (at least on the surface) is so patriotic. After a day of fireworks, American anthems and classic tunes, and even a visit from a Californian congressman, even I was starting to feel a sense of American pride. There was a great energy and a sensation of national pride generated by the day that I have rarely felt in the UK outside of sports matches and the London Olympics. This is a day solely about America and this day (and the atmosphere) is duplicated every year. Speakers at the carnival repeated that America is the home of the best, the most incredible nation on earth, and you start to believe it. None of this is a criticism, just an observation. Either way, I truly enjoyed my first Fourth of July.

Edit: just a note to apologise about the formatting. I’m not sure how it looks for those with computers but on my phone it looks messy. Yet another reason I miss my laptop at camp – I have no idea how to work the WordPress app on my phone!

Day 30: Your favourite book of all time

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

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The final reveal: this satire of an American air squadron in the Second World War tops my list of Best Books. I do need to re-read it. I haven’t read it in at least three years, and this makes me feel a little guilty about naming it my favourite book of all time (tied with Neil Gaiman and, who else, Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens). But there have been very few books that have kept me so entertained, made me question principles, caused me to laugh out loud and also had me almost in tears all in a few pages. The characters are all well drawn, Major Major being my favourite (I think, because there’s so many that I treasure). I have to revisit this book to make sure, but I’m pretty sure that it tops my all time best books list.

Thank you for staying with me, and sorry to those who prefer film and travel related content – it’s coming now, no fear. I’ve had a lot of fun with this challenge, though I definitely felt more confident with some prompts than others. If you decide have a go yourself let me know so I can follow it. Cheers guys.

Day 29: A book everyone hated but you liked

Just and Unjust Wars by Michael Walzer

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This was a book hated by my Ethics of War class – a core textbook, everyone had to read it. List a book as compulsory, and it suddenly becomes the most boring book ever written. However, I really enjoyed it. Looking into the ethics of war practices,JaUW confronts moral dilemmas and tries to find a moral acceptable solution. This may sound boring, and to some it is, but Walzer is a eloquent writer, and the subject matter is engaging if you actively confront the ideas and solutions he poses rather than just assuming what he says is correct.

So I recommend this book (as I did when I mentioned it in Day 1). Definitely give it a read if you think ethical puzzles are what your mind is after. For politics students, feel free to ignore it and hope it goes away. I always found this to be a good strategy.

Image creditAmazon

If you’re missing your film-fix, check out Dreams From the Mind. It’s all about film and fashion, a combination of opinions and reviews.

Day 28: Favourite title

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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I never did To Kill a Mockingbird at GCSE (I did Silas Marner instead – one guess as to which one I’d have rather studied), so I haven’t dissected this title to death. For me it holds an elusive appeal. It’s so simple, and says everything and nothing about the plot of this incredible book. You know the quote, you know that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird, but is that really what the book is about? Or is it about the redemption of those who could not protect their mockingbird. Is it the slaughtered mockingbird the literally deceased Tom Robinson, or the reclusive Boo Radley, figuratively killed by society’s expectations of both who he is and who he should be?

Am I delving too deep into this? Maybe. Have I completely missed the point? Probably. But it has been a title that has long intrigued me like no other has, resulting in it becoming my favourite.

Image credit: Wikipedia

Day 27: The most surprising plot twist or ending

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

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I know it’s a children’s book, but I have never been more surprised by a plot twist than was the case with PoA. Seriously, after all that build up, the book changed into something else and it all made sense. Even now I’m older I have trouble finding the plot holes. If there is one book I wished I didn’t know the ending so I could go back and read afresh, it’s this one.

Sidenote 1: I feel as if I have been defending my love for Harry Potter needlessly. I love Harry Potter, to me it is near flawless, and I don’t care who knows!

Sidenote 2: And seeing as I’m in America at the moment – Happy Independence Day everyone!

Day 26: A book that changed your opinion about something

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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I’m not sure that Margaret Atwood’s acclaimed novel changed my opinions on anything, but I think it challenged them. Or rather, discussing the book with my friends made me challenge myself in what I read into the book. Less cryptically, I’m talking about the end: after all that has gone on before in the dystopian world, we reach the epilogue, and it seems everything is back to normal. However, and this is where the discussions changed my thinking: the world only seems normal because it is similar to the one we live in now. If you look closely at the ending, you still see sexism, still can recognise attitudes that have travelled from the dystopian state to the seemingly ‘corrected’ future. Maybe this sounds a bit deep, but this is a book that really made me question not only what I’d read, but the way we lived now. It was a pretty important book for me, I guess.

Image credit: Kelly Garbato