For those of you unversed in how this works, here's a brief overview:
Brits usually have to apply to a third party company like Camp America, Camp Leaders or Bunac (the summer camp arm of which recently shut up shop after changing US Visa requirements have caused all sorts of problems for future applicants and such mentioned companies). You pay them and they take a cut of your wages in return for sorting out all the stressful stuff and getting you to camp- easy and often necessary but fairly expensive.
I didn't use the regular application process, I went to a last-minute Camp America recruitment fair in London and did the 'HIRE ME I'M AWESOME' thing and got a gig as a fitness instructor at a beautiful all-girls camp in upstate NY. WIN. However, I was lucky- other friends who used the normal application process actually never got 'chosen' by an American camp, so even though my approach was riskier, it worked out better for me.
The second year I decided to go it relatively alone from my end, using only the US company chosen by camp who help sort out your visa. This ended up being a tad cheaper but VERY stressful (applying for a US visa while travelling in Australia and liaising with Americans = pain in the A**). Nevertheless, I got here and made more money from the summer because of being paid as a returner and not giving up some of my wages to a company- happy days!
Now, to entertainment and wisdom!
Thing You Should Know About American Summer Camps... The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.
1) Expect the unexpected- from kids grabbing your boobs and colouring in their pubic hair with face paint to having to give up all semblances of dignity in a moment's notice (no-one is above plunging an overflowing toilet or galloping around trussed up like a horse).
2) Pack comfy clothes that STRETCH- you are likely to gain weight! See point 5.
3) Pack nice clothes too- you will relish any opportunity to go out and socialise, even if you're only putting on your 'good shorts' to go to Walmart. (On that note, compared to the People of Walmart, even in Primarni's finest you will feel like a celebrity, and get stared at like one too).
4) Bug spray is a necessity, every night! Especially on 'OD' sitting outside bunks being Mosquitoes' evening snack!
5) It is not necessary to eat desert every day, PBJ sandwiches after every meal, afternoon snack, evening cookie AND then go out for ice cream at any opportunity. Hellooo chonks!
6) Not every camp allows bikinis, so pack a few appropriate-ish swimsuits that will give you minimal tan lines in multiple places!
7) If you wear trainers (sneakers) every day, you will get sock tanlines. Bring fake tan to patch it up or spend as much time in flip flops as possible in between periods! Let your tootsies BREATHE!
8) You will acquire Camp Goggles. Unwittingly and invisibly worn, they allow the greasy geek you saw in orientation to seem like an adonis after a few weeks. Keep your hot-ometer in check by regularly oggling fit men in magazines, or on Vampire Diaries.
9) Friends with cars will make your life one million times better. Find one!
10) The kids can be brats- often they are very privileged and (in their own words) 'JAPPY' (from the acronym Jewish American Princess), but remember they may have family issues, social anxieties or personal problems like any other kid. Be their friend and confidante, and maybe you can make a difference.
11) Little things make a big difference. Remembering the name of one of your kid's dogs, or that they were playing in a softball tournament that day, or that they are obsessed with Justin Bieber is important. "Yes, Lil' Bow Wow would LOVE an arts and crafts dog collar", "How did you play against that other camp today?" and "Here's a picture of Bieber I got from the shared staff magazine pile" are phrases that would earn you counselor points, and show them you care.
12) Don't expect to make a financial profit from the summer. You will work long hours, doing tiring work, for very little money. What you do earn is easily squandered on socialising, getting off camp and shopping. Some camps allow you to stay later and work a post-camp season (my camp has weddings every weekend, that's how I'm earning my trip to Vegas :D).
13) You WILL however, gain a lot in other ways. You will actually enjoy your work (which often doesn't feel like work), you will gain amazing friends and experiences, and will make a difference in kids' lives, which is pretty priceless.
14) No matter how many times your kids make you cry, stop you sleeping, wear you out or infuriate you, you will grow to love them, and miss them, even their crazy behavior and incessant singing.
15) You will become emotional. I thought I had a heart of stone, but I found myself weeping at movies, feeling fuzzy at campfires and bawling my eyes out whenever the kids of staff left camp. Even the tough are not immune!
16) You will not get as much sleep as you are used to. With younger kids? They wake in the middle of the night homesick or incontinent and they wake at the crack of dawn. Older kids? They refuse to go to bed when told, hold secret midnight soirees in the closet and will need you to drag them out of bed in the morning even when you'd like an extra 5 minutes too.
17) You might not get a chance to shower every day. Wet Ones and dry shampoo the rescue!
18) You need to be able to entertain kids. Whether that's by playing games, telling stories, painting nails or throwing impromptu dance parties- a sudden storm may have you bunk-bound and bored, but use that time to bond with your brood and all the better for it! (Erm, yeah I like alliteration).
19) You have to be able to put others first. Let the kids get treats first, let them have a go on the bouncy thing first, let them finish the race while you care for a kid with a sore knee- you get the picture. Patience is a virtue :)
20) You might be staying in a cabin, a lodge, a tent, or a shack. Make the best of it, and keep it clean! Once ants get at dropped candy there's no getting rid of them!
21) You will use code words that will not work. Whether alcohol is 'chocolate milk' or candy is 'dead dog's ashes' (don't ask), the kids WILL know what you're talking about!
22) Being able to plait or braid is not good enough. The ability to french, dutch, waterfall, fish or spiral braid is where it's at!
23) Enjoy every moment. It might be the only summer you spend at camp, and come rain or shine, joy or exhaustion, it will be one of the best experiences of your life.
For more advice, insights and hilarious anecdotes, check out Secret Diary of a Camp Counselor, Camp Confessions, Those Camp Things, Summer Camp Culture and my personal favourite... All I Do Is Camp Camp Camp!