After graduating in LLB Law at The University of Manchester, Lauren embarked on a gap year trip across Australia and South East Asia before securing a summer camp role in the USA with Camp Leaders
How did you choose your gap year?
Following a rigorous four years at university, I felt that I'd earned a well-deserved break from study. So I asked myself, what better way to spend the next year-and-a-half than travelling the world?
I've always dreamed of living in Australia, so I saved up for five months and headed off to the other side of the world. I travelled the East Coast before settling in Melbourne where I worked in a beach café. To escape the winter, I then went on a backpacking adventure in South East Asia, where I discovered the wonders of Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines. After my final few months back in Melbourne, I managed to land a job at an American summer camp to complete my gap year experience.
Why did you decide to become a summer camp counsellor in the USA?
During my time in Melbourne, I worked with someone who'd been to summer camp in Pennsylvania. She inspired me to reach out to her camp and after a fun interview with the camp director I was hired as a lifeguard and high ropes instructor.
I've always loved working with children and had worked at an all-girl summer camp a few years before in West Virginia, so becoming a camp counsellor seemed like the perfect way to end my gap year experience.
When did you take part in the programme and how long did it last?
I spent nine weeks working as a camp counsellor with Camp Leaders. Once this had finished, I flew to California with my new friends made at camp to visit Yosemite, Los Angeles and San Francisco - with Alcatraz Island being a particular highlight.
How did you fund the trip?
Working at the café in Melbourne helped me to pay for flights and my Camp Leaders fees. At summer camp, all of my food and accommodation was included so I hardly spent anything during this time. I got paid in August and used this money to fund my travel around America.
What was a typical day like as a counsellor?
Being a general counsellor in the teen village, we trusted our campers with the responsibility of attending activities on their own accord. Therefore, unlike other general counsellor positions, I wasn't responsible for taking my campers to each activity. Each day, I followed a similar timetable:
Wake up, clean the bunks and have breakfast. I had to ensure that my group of twenty 16-year-old girls tidied the bunks, had breakfast and were ready for the day.
For activity one and two I'd usually be on the ropes course, assisting the climbing staff and ensuring that the teen village campers were all accounted for.
This was the rest hour where I could have a nap, catch up on reading or just chill out in the cabin with my campers.
After lunch it was time for activities three and four. Depending on the activities campers had signed up for, I could be assigned to Zumba, the zip-line or yoga.
This was an opportunity to get involved with athletics or enjoy a free swim. As a lifeguard, I was on duty during the swim and was responsible for closing the pool correctly.
Throughout the summer I was responsible for leading a number of evening programmes after we'd all had dinner. My roles ranged from hosting an open-mic night to judging our talent show, and this was a fun and informal way to end the day.
This is curfew and lights out. After all my campers have been accounted for, I would head to the counsellor's lounge where I could hang out with my friends and use the Wi-Fi to contact home.
During the summer, we took our campers on two big trips - to Los Angeles and Montreal. These two weeks were completely different from the rest of camp as we took part in a range of volunteering, sightseeing and cultural activities. I found it really easy to fit into the daily camp structure and adjust when on the field trips.
What were the highlights?
Watching the confidence of my campers grow throughout the summer was by far the highlight. As I got to know each of the girls, I felt extremely proud when they accomplished things and overcame their own challenges.
And what were the biggest challenges?
Maintaining the high energy needed to be the best possible counsellor throughout the summer. Around the seventh week at camp, I started to feel tired and even short-tempered at times. However, camp is well equipped for this feeling and after taking a relaxing day off, I felt rejuvenated and ready to go again.
How will the skills you developed help your career?
As my self-confidence grew, I adopted numerous leadership roles at camp without giving it a second thought. I was appointed to be one of four 'colour war' captains where I was responsible for leading chants, encouraging campers to enter competitions and upholding the morale and excitement of half of the camp. This willingness to jump into a leadership role when required is an invaluable skill that has helped me to develop and progress in my career.
What advice would you give to others considering a gap year?
Just go for it - travel the world, explore new places and meet people while you can. It was the best year-and-a-half of my life and has given me many skills, increased confidence and a completely different outlook on life.
It's helped me to develop as a person while I've learned more about myself than I could ever have thought possible. As a woman, doing a gap year was incredibly empowering as I travelled wherever I wanted and was able to set a positive example for younger girls during my time at camp.
Do you have advice for those thinking of working as a camp counsellor?
Be prepared to be pushed outside of your comfort zone. Being a summer camp counsellor will teach you so much about who you are, as you become a role model for campers. It sounds like a cliché but the more you put in, the more you'll get out of the experience and the skills gained at summer camp will stay with you for a lifetime.
Find out more
- Explore the idea of a gap year.
- Read about American summer camp jobs and working in the USA.
- Discover how to become a camp counsellor with Camp Leaders.