The American Institute for Foreign Study (Australia) Pty Ltd opened its Australian office in 1999 and began offering its Camp America and Au Pair in America programs to young Australians. In 2005, AIFS commenced offering inbound programs and currently facilitates cultural exchange programs for more than 2,000 young people.
I had always wanted to go on a Camp America trip, but I went straight from High School into University to study teaching for 4 years, and then straight into a Graduate Position. I never paused long enough to make the time for it and I felt like my life was already on a set path that I had to follow. It wasn’t until my teaching contract ran out after my first year that I considered doing something other than teaching for a while. When I made the decision to go to camp everyone told me I would have the time of my life, and I would want to go back year after year. They said I would make lifelong best friends, and to be honest I was a little skeptical. I didn’t doubt that I would have a great time, but I didn’t anticipate how much it would capture my heart and change my life.
It’s hard to put into words how truly wonderful, challenging and life changing camp was for me. I felt like I became a mother to dozens of little 6 and 7-year-old girls, and a sister and friend to the people I worked alongside. As soon as I left camp all I could think about was coming back. I would dream about it at night and daydream about it all day long. I kept imagining what it would be like if I returned,and all the things I would do differently now that I had a year of experience. Every conversation I had would begin with “well when I was at camp…. this onetime at camp… my friend from camp…” and I am sure all of my friends and family back home got sick of me always talking about it! It was truly the best experience, and the greatest decision I could have made. Everyone I met felt like an immediate friend, and after only weeks together it felt like we had known each other our whole lives. I can honestly say that I have made some of the best friends through my time at camp, and the children I met have captured my heart. They were brutally honest (like when they told me I had a moustache or I needed to brush my teeth more because they looked yellow) and beautifully encouraging (like when they said they wished I was their mum, or that I had a great singing voice). The thought of never seeing these children again broke my heart, so I decided that I would have to return in 2020 and did everything in my power to make it happen!
Having attended a Salvation Army Camp, there were opportunities to pray with the children I looked after, talk to them about how much Jesus loves them and teach them stories from the Bible. Coming from a Christian background myself, I loved hearing the questions they had about faith. Working with kids from an underprivileged background, I was also able to give a child a brand-new pair of sneakers. She had come to camp with only a pair of flip flops that didn’t fit her properly. She was so excited and overjoyed to receive this gift and exclaimed that she had never had a new pair of shoes before. There were hundreds of seemingly insignificant moments like this that happened each day,but they all came together to create something powerful. It was the moments like this that made all the hard days and challenges more than worth it.
The weekends and breaks spent with friends always passed by far too quickly, and it felt like there was never enough time to make new friends and hang out with the old ones all at once. Some of my favourite memories from camp included playing a game called “Red Ball” during Orientation Week. I started to develop my Red Ball skills as the week progressed, and soon the reigning champion dubbed me his apprentice! It was a title I was honoured to receive. I also loved dressing up in silly costumes, doing funny skits and songs each week during Campfire, and spending time sharing Australian culture with my American friends (like introducing them to Milo!)
The memories from my time at camp are endless, and the impact it has had on my life is hard to fully capture in words. I don’t regret a single thing, and I will be returning for as long as I am able! I encourage anyone who is considering Camp America to take a leap of faith and just do it. It has been one of the best decisions I have ever made, and I can’t imagine my life without my new camp friends and family. You will never experience anything quite like it, and it is made even better by the incredible people you get to share those experiences with.