The summer before my first year of college I served as a camp counselor’s assistant at the summer camp at my local park. The thing was, I didn’t live in the city where I volunteered; more precisely, I drove about half an hour to get to Lake Eva Summer Camp every day.
Each day started early. Camp counselors had to arrive by 7 AM, but assistants could arrive by 9 AM; I enjoyed two more hours of sleep. Most activities of the summer camp took place in the multi purpose room of Lake Eva Park. Students, ranging from 7 to 12 years old, placed their belongings inside of cubbies before sitting in the tables in near the windows of the spacious room. On the other end of this room, a pool table, air hockey table and a set-up basketball hoop interrupted an otherwise open expanse of cold tile floor. Children were excited when their tables were called to walk over to the open coolers containing plastic boxes full of breakfast from the local school food program. There was not much variety for breakfast; namely, a packet holding a cup’s worth of either Frosted Mini Wheats, Apple Jacks or Chex Rice cereal, a banana and a carton of chocolate or plain 2% milk. For me, if there were extra plastic boxes (and there almost always were), I helped myself to two or three packets of cereal because the size of the breakfast was not enough for an adult like me.
On Mondays, the team of assistants (there were five in total, including my twin brother and me), the camp counselors escorted the kids to the Lake Eva public pool. For the especially hot summers in Florida, nothing was more appropriate than wadding in the water to cool off. But, since I had recently started to wear glasses, I opted not to go swimming. I didn’t want to remove my glasses and be barely able to see clearly; with sixty kid campers, it’s not acceptable to lose sight of any one of them. So, I assumed the role of sentry and monitored the pool area from a pool chair; also, when kids grew tired of swimming, they were eager to chat about their friends from school and their hopes for the next school year. One conversation I can fondly remember. One of the campers, Daniel, a second-grader with a little chubbiness told me that he liked one of the other campers, a girl named Ana. He told me to promise not tell anyone. When I promised I wouldn’t say a word, his plump cheeks stretched into a smile; he then asked me, out of sheer curiosity, if I had a girlfriend. If this conversation was with a high school classmate, then I probably would have gotten a sneer or guffaw by responding that no, I’ve never had a girlfriend. But the main thing I learned with talking to my campers is that they are great listeners. When I told Daniel that I never had been in a relationship, he heard me and looked surprised. He couldn’t believe it; he said how could it be that such a nice person had never had a girlfriend. “People like nice people,” he uttered, “and you’re real nice.” I was touched by his acclaim; even at his age, the nuance and way he expressed his thoughts was really deep. Using a second-grade language, he could express ideas and emotion and give praise like an adult. He was no exception; the other campers I spoke with at the pool side made such interesting conversations I wished we could continue. It comes to show that when interacting with kids, give them a space to be heard and they will speak. Treat them like adults and they’ll know how to behave and express themselves.
Lunch was followed by game time, which was when parents came to pick up their children. Thinking back to watching kids scurrying around the pool table to play Superhero tag, competing on the Foosball table, or talking to friends when coloring on paper, I felt a strong yearn. A yearn back to being in classroom settings where kids could have fun being with each other, playing games, conversations. Oddly enough, I feel a dissonance between past experience and hopeful dream. It’s because I’ve never been to camp before, or at least for the duration Lake Eva Summer Camp lasted, which was 3 months. And I would miss being around such high energy and camaraderie at the end of camp in mid-August.
I experienced that rush once again in the first summer of college as a Resident Assistant for the Summer Academy for Math and Science (SAMS). With 127 students in the program, sitting in the lounge of Hamerschlag House, a dorm on Carnegie Mellon University’s campus, was to sit in a concert of booming conversations, students buzzing from Office Hours and a frantic table tennis marathon.
And once again during the RA Training this past summer, I was with the entire staff of Residential Education. All 110 Resident Assistants, 11 Community Advisors and dozens Housefellows leading workshops on effective programming skills, discussions on the residential curriculum and tons of bonding through breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Summers in college are different because you have more options of where you want to work and where you want to be during those months between Spring and Fall semesters. If you choose to be away from home, as I have for the last two summers, you get to learn a whole lot more about yourself, especially aspects of your identity you hadn’t had time to explore. In essence, you acquire more adult responsibilities, but you get to know yourself so much more in the process. By now, I see that I’m most excited by large groups and high energy activities psyche me up. That’s my personality and I hope to share some of that intensity with you through my work.