December 10, 2018

My Camp Gave Me a New Career

Working at Jewish sleepaway camp was an amazing way to spend my summers.

I got to spend time with friends, learn new activities and find out something new about myself. I believe the experiences I had as a staff member apply to post-college jobs, helping prepare me for the real world.

I recognized the positive impact of camp during my junior year of high school.

While attending a different camp than usual, I wasn’t shy about meeting new people and creating friendships, which was only because of my previous experience at URJ Greene Family Camp in Bruceville, Texas. During my freshman year of college, I wasn’t quite ready to leave all of my high school friends. However, working at camp that summer allowed me to make an easy transition. Because of camp, I had more confidence when walking into my first day of classes and meeting new people at social events than I probably would have otherwise.

Not until recently did I realize the true worth of working at summer camp.

I’m graduating from college, and, in preparation for the real world, I’ve gone on a number of job interviews. In those interviews, I realized the impact working at summer camp had on me.

Many of the experiences I spoke about during my interviews were related to my time as a staff member at Greene Family Camp. Every employer I interviewed with was impressed by what I had accomplished while on staff, and the experiences I gained during my summers at camp.

Despite the popular belief that camp counselors lie around in the sun all day and run easy activities, like basketball or crafts, the job is so much more than that. I feel the experience I received during those four summers taught me far more about myself and the way I work than just having an internship.

At camp, one of the first lessons you learn is how to work with a team.

This is a great lesson: An employer will always ask you a question about your ability to work within a team.

At the camp where I worked, all counselors were placed with one to two other counselors to manage a kehillah (community). You learn to live and work together in a way you would never experience at an internship.

During my third year on staff, I had the opportunity to take part in a program that allowed third-year bunk counselors to take on a leadership role at camp and participate in an additional training seminar before the summer began.

As part of that fellowship, I took on a mentoring position. I helped first-year staff members transition into their roles as counselors.

My fourth summer, I served as an assistant unit head. I learned to manage a group of staff members and campers, some of whom are my friends. Though it was sometimes difficult separating friendship from the job, being just 21 years old in this position gave me the leadership and management skills I have today.

If it weren’t for camp, I don’t think that I would have been offered the job I’ll be starting next month: I will be working in the sales program of an engineering firm in Austin, Texas, employed by a company that emphasizes working as a team.

If it weren’t for camp, I don’t think that I would have been offered the job I’ll be starting at an engineering firm in Austin, Texas.

Again, I’m prepared for this opportunity because of camp. Of course, in this new role, I’ll be working with a lot of new people.

Camp taught me that, whether a friend or acquaintance, getting along with your co-workers will make your job easier — and make you more successful. It is so important to build relationships with co-workers so that working together is easier.

Something as little as learning what makes someone smile, or how they deal with stress, can have a tremendous impact on the way you work together. I have more confidence than I would if I had not worked at camp.

I wish I could be at camp again this summer. I know the positive impact that working at Jewish summer camp has on both campers and staff, and I know this summer will be no exception for all those campers and staff this year!

Zoe Bernbaum, a former staff member at Greene Family Camp, a Reform Jewish summer camp in Bruceville, Texas, wrote this essay in her senior year at the University of Texas at Austin.