Abigail Kwak is a Class of 2020 graduate from Bryn Mawr College. She majored in English, with a concentration in Creative Writing and a minor in History of Art. During her downtime, she enjoys painting, writing poems, and watching cat videos. Abigail’s resumé and job interview material were enhanced after learning life-lessons from an unexpected place—camp!
Guest-written by Abigail Kwak
Working for a day camp during the summer break may seem cliché to some people, but honestly… I like a job that keeps me on my toes. Trust me, working with kids all day accomplishes that. As a Bryn Mawr College Class of 2020 graduate with a major in English, a concentration in Creative Writing, and a minor in History of Art, working with kids seems like the farthest thing from my line of study.
But as someone who worked with kids in high school and who currently volunteers with a Japanese-English speech program, I wasn’t going into the job unprepared.
To some, running around after kids all day isn’t the ideal way to get job experience, but being a counselor helped me see the impact that I could make on someone else’s life. Working with kids can teach lessons that can, unexpectedly, be transferred over to a professional career.
It teaches you how to talk to and empathize with campers of different ages and backgrounds. It makes you think on your feet during disastrous situations. And it shows employers that you’re willing to dive headfirst into helping others. Because if the summer heat can’t stop you, then nothing can and nothing will.
Thinking about being a camp counselor? Here are the three most important lessons I learned while I spent my summer as a camp counselor:
1. How to Show Empathy (even with difficult people… or kids)
On any given day at summer camp, one moment everything is fine—you think you’ll make it through snack time in the boiling July heat with no trouble—but the next moment, you’re pulling two campers aside and calmly trying to explain to them why we can’t take the water directly from the water cooler and have water fights to cool down.
Now, why ever would kids take the drinking water and have water fights outside during snack time? To understand that, one must think of the situation through the camper’s eyes. Well, water fights happened because it’s hot out and there is limited shade!
In these situations, it was always helpful for me to try and understand where the camper was coming from, and why they did what they did. Thinking beyond myself, and empathizing with another person, no matter who or how old they might be, is a lesson that I took from my job and one that I still remember to this day. When faced with a problem, it’s important to think of it from the other person’s perspective. Ask yourself why they are throwing water on themselves… then try to understand it.
2. How to Think Fast, and Make Decisions Even Faster
One day, while watching over campers during lunchtime, I noticed that the plastic box we stored the glass marbles in had a thin lining of shattered glass glistening at the bottom. Immediately, I did the mental calculations. Every day the marbles were thrown back in, shaken back and forth, or just buried under new marbles, and now the bottom layer of marbles had been slowly chipping away, creating tiny shards of glass just waiting to wreak havoc. “Oh,” I thought, “I should make sure that the campers don’t touch that anymore.”
No sooner had the thought crossed my mind when one camper, finished with her lunch and excited to play, sat down and dumped the entire box of glass marbles on the fluffy carpet. Marbles and glass shards spread out everywhere and I watched, in horror, as my camper sat in the splash zone.
Panic rushed through me and I struggled to keep my voice calm as I told all the campers not to move. When something goes wrong, stay calm and think on your feet. I instructed the surprised camper to go outside and jump up and down for several minutes (in hopes of getting any glass off) and ran to another classroom and got a teacher to help me vacuum up the mess.
It was my responsibility to make sure that the campers were safe, which meant making a split-second decision on how to help campers without scaring them. In stressful situations, remember: Take a deep breath and focus on making a decision as quickly, and calmly, as possible.
3. Be Proud of the Impact You Make
As a counselor, I was in charge of the Orton-Gillingham Reading Program, which was a six-week course that aimed to help campers improve grammar and reading. The sadness of those students was practically palpable. It’s summer and you’re doing more classwork? Even if it is beneficial, it doesn’t make it less annoying.
One afternoon, after the camp was over, I was cleaning up a classroom when a camper and his mom came in. The mom had stopped by to thank me for taking care of her son and for helping him with his reading. I was proud of how far he had improved since the beginning of the summer and I appreciated his patience in learning.
The son, standing to the side and listening to me talk to his mom, got so embarrassed at being complimented that he, for reasons unknown to me, began doing push-ups on the ground. I had to stop myself from laughing and his mom merely smiled.
It was at this moment that I realized I was making a positive impact on someone’s life. At camp, kids were looking to me as a leader. In any role, I always try to remember that I am making a difference in my own unique way.
Being a camp counselor isn’t how most people imagine spending their summer break, but it’s a job that everyone should consider. The work presents new challenges and encourages workers to think outside their comfort zone. You never know what to expect on a typical camp day!
While it’s sometimes difficult, being a counselor really filled me with a sense of accomplishment. The job isn’t sitting at a computer all day or doing coffee runs. No—instead it’s building connections, understanding others, acting under pressure, and appreciating the impact made on someone else’s life. I never expected it at the time, but the summer I spent as a camp counselor enhanced my resumé in the best ways, providing me with the skills and experience that can transfer to any work environment… along with some funny camp stories to share in my next interview.
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