Camp has been over for four days now but it feels like forty. Have you seen Inception? In a dream one hour counts as seven. The same is true of camp. You do so much in a day that it’s hard to imagine you fit it was one day.
An average day at camp starts at 7:25 when Ben knocks on BJ’s and my door.
“Hey, are you organ donors ready?”
I groan, roll out of bed and rip the blinds open to reveal Austria’s mood. Low clouds could be eating the mountain tops, merging land and sky; and drizzling miserably or bright sun could reveal everything up to the glaciers topping the mountains a few kilometers away.
I lived on the red boys floor so each morning the boy counselors Ben, Balazs, Tiago, BJ and I (and occasionally one or two of the campers like little autistic Dragomir who’d stand outside Ben’s door at 7:20 like a puppy waiting for his master to rise) position themselves outside the campers doors. When somebody starts playing music on the camps acoustic guitar we start banging on doors, either greeting the campers with a “good morning” or by singing along to the song.
The first morning Ben played Blink 182 (“You don’t have, to tell me, what you think, about me, I know that, you’re leaving, you must have, your reasons, the seasons are calling, your pictures are falling down”) and I’ll never forget the look on some of the kids faces awash with excited joy as we came through their doors. I guess I felt the same way.
On special days we might shout DODGE BALL WAKE-UP as we simultaneously kicked in the campers doors at 7:30 in the morning and pelted them in the face with foam dodgeballs before they’ve had a chance to wipe the sleep from their eyes but that’s not usual.
After wake-up there is a brief moment to brush teeth, wash face, apply deodorant and otherwise groom ones self in a way that is considered socially acceptable which becomes increasingly difficult as the summer wears on.
Just before meals we have a “color group meeting” where the kids split up into age groups to be counted and allow the kids and counselors to build rapport. During the first session (camp is split into two two-week sessions populated by two groups of kids) my group was the RED RIOT with whom I had a secret handshake and during the second session we were the RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS and we learned a new language for roll call each day. This was when we’d yammer with the kids, getting pumped for the day. Once they were all there we’d go to breakfast: Austrian style.
The counselors usually sit with the kids for breakfast which can be a bit much before coffee. Since we stayed in a hotel breakfast was good but monotonous: consisting of a variety of cereal, organic milk, dried fruits, nuts, seeds, yogurt, bread rolls, sandwich meats, jams, tomatoe and cucumber. For some reason my breakfast evolved into a bread roll buttered on one side, jammed on the other with a selection of meat, cheese and cucumber between. I’d make the same thing if we needed to pack lunches for an excursion. Try it. It’s delicious.
After breakfast everyone split up to do their various activities: film campers made films, mountain adventure campers did outdoorsy activities and language students learned languages. We stayed with our different groups from 9 til noon. I taught English in two different sessions to two very different classes comprised entirely of Italians and Russians. The first group was 90% loud, ridiculous Italian kids who oozed energy and passion (not always for language) from every pore. The second session was a 90% quiet Russian kids who didn’t want to be in English class. Throughout each session we played games, did activities and created random projects – my favorites being the class newspaper for the more advanced Italian group and wanted poster for the less skilled Russian group (Ian “Flatulent” Marvinney wanted for farting”).
After morning activities the kids had about twenty minutes to change, clean up, play ping pong, or screw around before our pre-lunch counselor meeting. Once they’re all there we’d let them sign up for afternoon activities and head to lunch where they serve a variety of Austrian delights usually preceded by an incredibly salty soup.
After lunch the entire camp gathers together on the tennis courts (or in the classrooms if it’s raining) for a camp meeting and secret friends. “What time is it?” we ask. “Secret friends!” they reply. This is the special time when the kids can write secret messages to one another and the counselors come out, dressed as idiots, and read the messages out to the kids.
The afternoon session follows which can be anything from a trip to the pool to a lesson on American football to a go-karting trip. My most common activities to teach were Football, Volleyball, and Ultimate Frisbee. Afternoon activities lasted from 3-5 after which the kids had an hour and twenty minutes of free time which the usually used to eat so much candy, ice cream and chips from the store up the road that they couldn’t eat dinner. The bonus was that they bought so much that we counselors never had to pay for snacks, we just need to approach the stairs in front of the hotel where they congregated and pick and choose among the offers. Technically this is staff free time as well but there is always something to be done so it never quite happens.
Before evening color group we have a staff meeting where we get brightly colored schedules for the next day showing exactly what duties each staff has to perform (running the bank for the kids, floor patrol, meal patrol, night duty, etc.) in addition to which activities they’d be leading. Then we’d meet our kids and go to dinner.
After dinner was evening activities which could be anything from Blind Date for the older kids to a Counselor Hunt to International night (where the kids make presentations on the country of their choice) to my favorite game of all time, Squirrels (where the kids are split into four teams versus the counselors. They try to deliver acorns to the center and we try to tag – or tackle the stuffing out of – them.)
Once evening activity ends the kids go to bed and the staff has another meeting. Once the final meeting is over it is finally free time. This is when we’d grab a beer in the restaurant or walk down to the giant hammock in the middle of a field to watch the stars or to break into the local pool for a swim but most of the time, it was time for bed.
If that wasn’t enough, there was another world squeezed inside this framework where you find time to hang out with kids and counselors; run personal errands; take time off; go on excursions with the kids; perform practical jokes; make friends; prepare activities; and on and on. Like I said, every day felt like seven.