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.
Six years ago, from the outside, my life looked great! I was working full time as an Accountant after spending three years earning my degree, whilst owning and operating a dance school with my sister. I was so happy with all that I had achieved, but I still felt something was missing. I needed to get outside of my bubble, out of my comfort zone and experience more; I needed a new adventure! I first applied for my two-year visa to live and work in the UK. Within weeks of applying I was ready to pull the pin. The thought of having ‘no plan’ scared me. That is when my friend told me about Camp America. This could be the first step in my adventure. I loved working with kids and the security of having a big successful company behind me every step of the way was very appealing. Before I knew it, I was at a Job Fair and had been placed at a Jewish camp in North Carolina as a counselor and dance instructor. It all happened so fast, I had never heard of North Carolina and I knew nothing about the Jewish religion but the support from the camp directors and the staff at CA were instrumental in making the best decision of my life.
Saying goodbye to my family and friends and boarding a plane to America all by myself was definitely a scary moment and I was immediately out of my comfort zone. It was overwhelming to walk into a brand new place on the other side of the world not knowing what to expect. Fast forward a few days and I was in a totally different head space. Everything was becoming more familiar; I was making new friends each day and I was already starting to feel that camp magic that everyone talks about. I was quite lucky that I got to experience so much at camp in such a short period.The first half of the summer I spent in a cabin with 7 girls (6-7 years old) and my co-counselor. I loved that every single day was different. I got to try all the options from rock climbing to kayaking, fine arts to tennis. I spent my days caring for these kids like they were my own whilst splashing around in the pool and lake or throwing paint and mud at each other. I was even lucky enough to be picked as a Colour War captain and spent the day cheering, competing, and screaming until I lost my voice. Colour War is one of the best days at camp-once you’ve experienced it, I guarantee you’ll agree with me! The second half of my summer was spent as a dance instructor. This position had me teach all ages from six up to 15 years throughout each day. It was great to see a different side of camp and get to interact with some of the older kids.
Saying goodbye on the last day of camp to both the kids and the new friends I had made was so hard. I don’t think I have ever cried so much! In what was only 9 weeks of friendship, I felt like I was leaving people I had known all of my life. With the sadness of leaving my new friends I was met with the excitement of new adventures- a month of travelling around the United States. I planned all my travels whilst at camp and spent my time up and down the east coast with a variety of different people I had met that summer. There were so many highlights, from seeing the big sights, to staying at a sorority, to boarding a 5 day cruise to Mexico with 40 of my camp friends! These are things I would never have experienced if I had not attended summer camp.
Since that first year back in 2015, I have returned to the same camp year after year. Each year I make new friendships, strengthen old ones, create new memories, and have 9 weeks of fun (and hard work!). In my second year, I returned to camp as a Unit Leader which gave me more responsibility, overseeing 4 cabins housing 48 10-year-old girls and 9 staff members. In my third year, I was lucky enough to be asked to join the leadership team as a Camp Leader for the Juniors. This promotion saw me managing 12 cabins of 6-8-year old boys and girls as well as 26 staff members. I have been in this role the last 3 years and feel truly grateful for the experiences that it has given me. My role now includes multiple off season Skype calls and even weekends in America each February to help plan the summer. I run my own staff training and play a major role in developing the young lives I cross paths with each year. The toolbox of skills I attained at camp were greater than that of the 10+ years I had working with children prior.
Now for the mushy stuff! Not only has camp given me new skills and greater confidence, it has given me a second place to call home. Blue Star is my ‘forever home’, my ‘home in the mountains’, my ‘happy place’. I am so grateful for the amazing people I have met at camp that I am lucky enough to call my friends. I am grateful for the summers spent watching my very first cabin of 7 year olds grow up into teenagers. I am grateful for every hug, every laugh and every meaningful memorable moment. I am most grateful for finding my soul mate. I met my fiancé at camp, in America, on the other side of the world, when back home in Australia our parents lived a whole 5 minutes apart. He proposed to me in the chapel at our forever home, the place we met and the place we both love with our full hearts. We were surrounded by all of our best friends and can only hope that they will all be able to make it from their various countries to celebrate at our wedding here in Australia. We love camp and will forever be grateful for the times we got to spend there, the memories made and the friendships that will last forever.