Last spring, as talk of summer plans infiltrated nearly every high school conversation, my friends chattered excitedly about their upcoming lifeguarding gigs, trips to the Jersey shore, and, most importantly, how much they wanted to hang out over the 10-week vacation. Plans were made for pool parties, amusement park visits, and countless other action-packed excursions. And I would be there for just about none of it.
Instead, on June 20, 2016, just over a week after school let out, I packed my car and drove until I reached the small coastal village of Wiscasset, Maine, eight hours north of my hometown. There, nestled on a tidal inlet several miles down a heavily wooded road, sat my home for the next eight weeks. It was about as far from civilization as one could reasonably get in midcoast Maine, and I was extremely excited. After a few days of staff training, I would begin working as a camp counselor and spend the next two months with eight 12-year-old boys and one other staff member in a cabin with no electricity or running water.
During the days, I worked on the camp’s organic farm, helping campers plant and harvest vegetables, rotate chicken coops, milk cows, feed pigs, and groom the farm’s enormous draft horse, Sal. In the evenings, I organized activities for my cabin, including twilight floats in the bay, massive games of capture the flag, and (most importantly, according to the campers) chocolate chip cookie bake-offs. Toss in two weeklong backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail that I co-led, and that’s my summer in a nutshell. I was on duty from 7am to 9pm every day, without breaks, and by the time my campers went to bed each night I was often too exhausted to move.
Even though I was frequently sleep deprived and broke out in hives from the dreaded brown tail moth on more than one occasion, last summer was far and away the most rewarding, incredibly fun, and absolutely unforgettable summer I’ve ever had. Every time I was frustrated or stressed, I just stopped and reminded myself to enjoy the moment. I knew that in no time I’d be back at home and deeply immersed in my senior year of high school and the college application process. Soon enough, I’d be faced with challenges and stresses much greater than a faulty ice cream churn or a misbehaving camper.
While going away for the summer was a sacrifice in the sense that I missed out on activities back home, the benefits of camp far outweighed my fear of missing out. I was able to develop incredibly close friendships with my fellow staff members, who served as my support system and lifeline through thick and thin. In addition, I was given the opportunity to eat lunch on Avery Peak, stand in the ocean spray at Pemaquid Point, chase the waves at Popham Beach, kayak in Montsweag Brook, swim in the Little Bigelow “tubs,” and jump 30 feet into Sewell Pond. Those names may not mean much to most people, but to everyone who shared last summer at our little spot on the Maine coast, they’re the places we laughed, cried, fell down, got back up, and made a difference in the lives of over 250 kids.
In addition to having fun and exploring the natural world, I grew so much as a person over the course of the summer. Being the surrogate parent for eight preteens was everything one might expect it to be. It was often hilarious, sometimes heartwarming, and occasionally wildly difficult. I learned that being a leader can mean asking for help, that taking initiative always pays off, that I’m stronger than I thought I was, and hundreds of other priceless lessons. Being a counselor made me more independent, patient, and responsible, and it was the first time in my life that I’ve actually felt like an adult.
I never chose camp because I thought it would look good on a college application, but when I think about all I’ve gained from my experience in the Maine woods, I realize that it has prepared me for my future more than anything else ever could have. When you’re deciding how to spend your summer, don’t make a decision solely based on what you think will look good to colleges. Choose according to what you love, and the rest will fall into place.