Updated: Jan 17, 2021
Arriving on camp property can be very daunting. Speaking from experience, there are so many emotions running through you. Excitement, anticipation, nerves, fear, shock, the list goes on and on. In this post I want to touch on culture shock and explain my personal experience.
Culture shock is something very real and something many, if not all of us go through when coming to summer camp. We have images of what camp will be like, be it from movies, TV shows or pop culture. Nothing will hit you like stepping off that bus for the very first time. When that moment arrived, I felt like a very small fish in a huge ocean! But just so you know, everything will be okay!
Culture shock is defined as ‘a personal disorientation one may feel when placed in an unfamiliar environment suddenly.’
When speaking with new to camp staff members and international staff members over the years that have gone through the similar experience of culture shock, the timelines all vary in length; however, the journey is still the same. I want to talk through this so you do not get lost in the shock and know that the shock won’t last forever. You will come through it all and enjoy this amazing adventure.
The first stage is the honeymoon stage. I personally feel that this starts from when those wheels touchdown in your destination city. You feel like ‘wow, I have arrived. I am here, I cannot wait for this adventure to start’. Throughout your orientation, you are getting to know people in a comfortable environment whilst in the city. You still have Wi-Fi readily available; you can check social media and FaceTime whenever you would like. You can still pick what you want to eat and when you eat it. The environment is still comfortable enough to feel the excitement as well as you being on cloud nine that your adventure is beginning.
This stage for me started when I stepped off the bus onto camp property. I was blown away; it was nothing like I imagined. Yes, it was beautiful but the camp was so big! I was definitely overwhelmed. The buzz of excitement from other staff members around me was electrifying. I did not know what was happening. Straight off the bus I was taken to my cabin. The anticipation of walking past the different buildings not knowing where I was, that was hard to take.
Once I arrived at my cabin, I was taken aback! A wood cabin, in the woods, with bunk beds, but that was it. A wooden box! I automatically was thinking where’s the toilet? Where’s the sink?! Where am I living?! As someone who had not really camped before (only for one night here and there) this was a huge hurdle. There were so many emotions rushing through me, four hours ago I was excited leaving the city to go somewhere I would call my home for the summer, and now I was doubting my whole thought process.
With the flood of emotions, homesickness was definitely at the centre of it all. It was not just the homesickness of missing people like friends or family, but of the homely environment. I never realized until that point how beautifully confident and comfortable, I felt in my surroundings. It became apparent to me how your home-life can help build your character and personality. Something I definitely took for granted.
The adjustment period for me lasted throughout the whole of pre-camp which was around a week. During this period, I felt like Bambi trying to walk. I had to learn a new language – oh yes, that camp lingo. It felt like I needed a dictionary at the beginning. Learn the lay of the land, where everything was. Make my bunk feel homey and relaxing for me. As well as making new friends and learning what my job will be for the summer.
Along this path there were obstacles. Personally, for me, the main being balancing social acceptance and authentic personality. Coming into a brand-new environment, you always want to give the best first impression you can, but these are also people you will be living and working with all summer long. You need to show your true self and build those relationships from the get go. With hindsight, these relationships will only enhance your summer and can build friends into family.
At my camp, many staff members have been returning here summer after summer, many of them being campers graduating into staff. They have all grown up together, all know everything about each other and that was another thing I felt like I had to navigate. I felt like I was binge watching a new reality TV show and I needed to figure out all the past drama.
Another layer to adjusting is communicating with loved ones. I found this the hardest to navigate. I am fully aware that I am very dependent on my phone. It is what keeps me in contact with friends, family, news events and everything else. So, coming into a rural camp setting, I did not really think about how this would affect me, but I was completely blindsided.
Finding the time to contact home was something I struggled with for a long time, and I truly think my family back home struggled with it too. As they did not know what I was going through or how camp actually worked (as we do not have this sort of thing back home). Figuring out things like; time differences, when I had time off and if it fit in with the camp computer policy, and lining up to actually use a computer, all of these factors were a domino effect.
Adjusting my mindset from being guilty that I did not get to chat to home for longer, to just a quick update message saying I’m all good but got to run because of x, y, z, helped my mentality whilst at camp. Shifting that mindset benefited me to get outside and enjoy everything that camp had to offer and truly helped me integrate more into camp life.
Now at this stage, you will not realise you are there until you reflect back. As the days go by, things you struggled to get your head around will become second nature to you. You will be fully immersed into camp culture that you will be screaming for a colour to win all because a computer picked you to be that colour for a day. You may laugh now, but believe it or not you will! You will be explaining camp lingo like you have grown up with it all your life. Walking in the dark to the washroom, yes, might still be scary but only because you don’t want to run into any trees!
Little by little you overcome that drastic first shock and you discover your personal resilience and strength. Your camp experience allows this to shine through. Seven years on after my first thud into camp life, I am still here and loving every second and every unique experience. At times I was close to throwing the towel in, I allowed myself to get overwhelmed especially during the anxiety stage. I did not think I was strong enough to get through. I thought I needed those home comforts but over time I realised that I just wanted them in the beginning.
What got me through was the support of everyone around me. Knowing that they had gone through the same emotional roller-coaster. To me it did not matter when they went through it: be it when they were a young camper or in their twenties like me, we have all been through that initial culture shock. We were not the first and we will not be the last.
Camp might be daunting when you first arrive, but if you allow the experience to carry you, you can truly see the beauty and the heart of your camp community and what it has to offer.