I believe summer camp leads to self-discovery.
When I was ten years old, I started going to an overnight camp in the Detroit suburbs. The camp, while dear to my heart, offered nothing special: Jewish programming, crafts, sports, a manmade lake. But I returned year after year, even embarking on their specialty outdoor tripping camps. I’d return home a smelly, swearing, smiling version of myself, and it would last me most of the school year.
The summer I was ten, I learned I could beat the boys at floor hockey. The summer I was twelve, I learned how to hike.Each summer fostered a love (or strong distaste) for something new: a love of stir fry, a deep hatred for the Blob, a love of kayaking. I knew my summer self strongly. I knew what I liked, I knew what I disliked, which meant I knew what I valued.
Camp exposed me to things I otherwise wouldn’t have experienced (i.e. stir fry, kayaking, etc.). And those things are awesome—they lead to great stories and picturesque memories. Yet in between those moments of trying new things and learning to love something (or someone), I learned how to try new things, how to love something, and how to love people fiercely.
And, if you are lucky enough, camp will teach you how to love yourself.
Like most people who went to camp, I met many of my greatest friends from my years at camp. These people understand me on a core level. We don’t need to exchange pleasantries because we just appreciate each other’s presence. For a thirteen year-old who felt so insecure and so different from everyone else in school, it meant the world to me that I could retreat to a place where people found the good in me.
At camp, without makeup or screens or bedrooms to disappear in, I lived vulnerably with others. At camp, our counselors taught us to embrace the weirdness and uniqueness within ourselves; sure, it was weird that I laughed much harder at fart jokes than anyone else my age, but I was accepted and loved. At camp, we could do ridiculous Russian accents, we could do a slip ’n’ slide slide on a rainy day and laugh at our muddy faces, and we could swap secrets at night, silently understanding our cabin’s holiness was to be respected. We loved each other not despite our faults, secrets, and strange quirks, but because of them.
Now, as a representative of camp, parents ask me at camp fairs, “So, what is your camp about?” And I respond, passionately using words like “friendship” and “leadership skills” and “self-confidence.” I can repeat those words all I want—wrap it in a bow and call it “personal development,” but camp specializes in the intangibles, the indescribables, and the invisible. Camp taught me to love, to be loved, and to get weird with others. That’s not easy to market, nor is it easy to explain the value to young parents
The camp experience is different for every kid: other campers hated kayaking and the outdoors or loved being the star of the camp play. Those are amazing things to recognize as a child, and maybe they would have discovered that without camp. But there is power in knowing yourself. There is power in learning how to find your niche. And, most importantly, there is power in learning yourself alongside a bunch of other kids who are learning themselves, somewhere in the woods.