Lessons learned at Summer Camp - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Lessons learned at Summer Camp

It’s August. Hot and sticky. It reminds me of the summers at camp.

When I was nine I went off to summer camp for a month. It was a small mom and pop camp in the northern woods on a lake. Small cabins dotted around the lake. The dining hall was a larger cabin with a veranda – all open to the elements. Even when you were indoors it felt like you weren’t. The camp was split into two-week segments so most kids only stayed two weeks and then another group arrived.

I spent a lot of time swimming laps. We had to swim a certain number of laps before we qualified for the grand finale event – swimming to the other side of the lake, one mile away. It was thrilling to accomplish it and those who did were rewarded with a ribbon. I enjoyed it. I think I was so wrapped up in being constantly active and everything was so new, I didn’t really have time to notice much about the other kids or the things I didn’t understand. At the end of that summer the camp closed.

The next year I went to a different camp. This camp was much larger with big two story cabins, horseback riding, sailing, target shooting, archery. You would think with all those things to do I would have been busy all the time but the day was very structured and there was always a period or two of down time. The food was awful and the dining room was a little claustrophobic.

I don’t know if it was because I was a bit older or it was just that particular camp but I had a hard time. My parents were living in Mexico City at the time and my friends were international. They came from Italy, England, Mexico, Ghana, Peru, all over. Most of them were bi or tri-lingual.

cabin-shot1The people I went to camp with were from the mid-west US and most of them had never been outside their state. They thought I was weird and different. There was a girl who was homesick most of the time and whined a lot. She was also overweight. The other girls made fun of her and I would see her crying on the back steps. I would try to console her but even she didn’t want to have anything to with me because associating with me would make her even more different than she already was.

Even at ten years old I had been around enough to be able to hold my own. I mostly ignored them and tried to get as much out of the activities as I could. I rode a horse for the first time and was scared to death when it started to gallop and yet at the same time it was absolutely thrilling. I received certificates for my target shooting abilities. I learned to tie all kinds of cool knots in my sailing class.

I understood the girls were different from me. They were mostly spoiled kids from wealthy families who somehow thought they were better than I was. Looking back, I think they were just uncomfortable with me. Even at that young age I had a lot of self confidence because I had to be able to rely on myself to adapt and survive.

One day some girls short-sheeted the fat girl’s bed and put some dirt and rocks in my bed. Just to be cruel. There was a big hoopla and an investigation into who had done these things. I kept a journal even then and wrote down my thoughts about people and my surroundings. It helped me diffuse some of my anger and it also gave me an opportunity to step back and analyze events after they happened. I had written my thoughts about some of the girls and their personalities. I wrote down what I didn’t like about them.

Somehow this journal came into the hands of one of the counselors and I was interrogated. The assumption was that I had done these things because I openly disliked some of the other girls. This made no sense to me at all and was incredibly surreal. Why would I sabotage myself? It was to throw everybody off, of course.

I remember sitting in the counselors’ room trying to explain to them why I wrote those things. I couldn’t believe they could be so dense. In the end they understood and I became friends with them. The teasing didn’t stop but the counselors took me under their wing and I spent the rest of my time with older girls who were a little more mature.

It was my first experience being totally immersed in my passport culture without my family. I didn’t know any of the TV shows the other girls talked about or most of the music they liked. I was not homesick, I liked camp. I was used to blending in and out of cultures and finding my own way. I knew sometimes it was easy and sometimes it was hard.

It was always hard at the beginning and usually took a couple of months to figure out a new situation. At camp I didn’t have the luxury of time, I had to be a quick study. It was a challenge but I learned some things about people and added to my resilience toolbox.

However, I didn’t go back the next year.


About the author

Kathy Gamble

Kathleen Gamble was born and raised overseas and has traveled extensively. She has a BA in Spanish and has worked in publishing, printing, desktop publishing, translating, and purchasing. She also designs and creates her own needlepoint. She started journaling at a young age and her memoir, Expat Alien, came out of those early journals. Over the years she has edited and produced an American Women’s Organization cookbook in Moscow, Russia, and several newsletters. Her first book, Expat Alien, was published in 2012 and she recently published a cookbook, 52 Food Fridays, both available on Amazon.com. You can also follow her blog at ExpatAlien.com. Contact the author.

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