Moving eight hours away from home brings many changes, especially if you’re moving into the middle of the woods in Virginia. Now, I know what you’re all thinking — spending eight weeks at summer camp sounds incredible! Well, yes and no. While camp life has its perks, there’s a big difference between spending eight weeks outside at summer camp versus eight weeks in a hot kitchen at summer camp. This summer, I spent my time as a kitchen director for Kandle Dining Services at Camp Ottari [a Boy Scouts camp located on Blue Ridge Scout Reservation]. 

Before camp, I did what I usually do before going into a new situation — I set my expectations low, [and I mean really low]. Being disappointed is a difficult feeling. Going somewhere I knew nothing about without knowing anyone at camp, and truly not knowing what I was going to be doing in my job left a lot of uncertainty for the summer. The only thing I really knew for certain was that my days were going to be long and exhausting. Oh, and that I probably wouldn’t have phone reception. 

Turns out I was right; I rarely had reception at camp. When I did, it was so slow I might as well have not had it. I didn’t scroll through my Instagram feed for two months. Some people might have hated that and not have been able to survive without social media, but I loved the feeling of “dropping off the grid” right after graduation.

Before camp started, I told myself I was going to delete most social media apps off my phone. While I never actually did this, I still rarely went on those apps because of the lack of cell service. To do work on my laptop, I had to use a hotspot which wasn’t much “The toughest, yet best moments are the ones you realize you’re going to miss while you’re still experiencing them.”better. Unplugging was much nicer than I expected. I’ll be the first to admit I’m nearly addicted
to my phone, but while at camp, there were days I’d finish working and my screen time would be 15 minutes [and that was only from using my calculator!]. After averaging five hours of screen time prior to camp, seeing the time I spent “plugged in” to the Internet decrease made me feel so accomplished. 

Not relying on your phone is liberating. I wasn’t worried about what everyone was doing, where people were traveling or what Snapchat stories I was missing that day. I recommend everyone takes a break from their phones and social media if they get the chance. There’s a whole world out there right in front of us that we often miss because we’re buried in our screens. 

Camp reminded me of college quite a bit. I moved far away into a cabin [that did not remind me of college] with four people I knew nothing about. At the beginning of the summer, we were all just strangers with a common goal: work and gain experience in the kitchen. At the end of the summer, we were a family and saying goodbye was more difficult than expected. My staff and I spent basically every hour together. From getting in the kitchen some mornings as early as 5 a.m. to make 1,000 pancakes for campers to not getting out of the kitchen until 9 p.m. during our busiest weeks [with over 400 campers on-site!]. I was definitely right about working long hours and being exhausted, but never did I think about the joy this summer would bring.

Each week, I got closer to my staff and to the camp staff who did an amazing job of making camp feel like home to me — something I didn’t realize I needed so much. I won’t lie, the first few weeks were rough in the kitchen. My staff consisted of five girls and we cooked for 250 to 400 campers, depending on the week. As with any new job, there’s going to be an adjustment period for everyone. This summer was the first time Kandle was in the kitchens at Camp Ottari, so our staff had to learn together. Whether it was half of our ovens not working for three weeks or the fridge breaking halfway into the summer, there was always a new problem that needed fixing. While this definitely induced some stress, it taught me a completely different side of leadership and team management, an area I thought I was pretty good at. News flash —you’re never done learning or growing in a position. 

As the weeks progressed and my team and I found our flow, everything started to be more relaxed and fun. Between hanging out with camp staff after dinner, heading down to the waterfront to canoe, attending opening and closing campfires and ziplining through the camp, there was always something to do. Our day off every week consisted of less than 24 hours between Saturday breakfast and Sunday lunch, but Saturdays quickly became filled with adventures around Virginia with the kitchen staff. 

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Whether you’re going to camp for the summer or studying abroad, traveling alone or working the days away, these are my top tips to make the most of your time: 

  1. Put yourself out there! I know, scary right? Making friends while you’re in a new place can be a great way to get exposure to the new culture you’re in. 
  2. Ask for help. Chances are, you’re not going to be familiar with the new area you’re spending time in. The locals [and new friends you’ve made!] will have great tips for making the most out of the area, what places to see and how to spend your time efficiently. 
  3. Slow down and enjoy the moment. Working all day can be draining and there will probably be times when you can’t wait for that day to end, but there’s always room to find good in every moment. Eight weeks flew by in the blink of an eye. It’s the little things that got me through the rough days, the people I was surrounded with, and the memories I was making.
  4. Take plenty of pictures! This seems like a given, right? Especially with how popular social media is now. Looking back on the summer, I don’t have much to show for it, and I wish I had more pictures to show my friends to help explain my experiences. 

Camp is truly indescribable at times. I truly dreaded the thought of being surrounded by 400 Boy Scouts before heading to Virginia. This summer was filled with “had to be there” moments [my personal favorite], laughter, tears and, luckily for me and my kitchen staff, no food fights! 


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