Different Times Need Different Measures – Practical Training during a Pandemic?


When I first arrived, I had so many questions. Who am I going to work with? What exactly will I have to do? How will I adapt to not speaking my mother tongue for about three months?

Blog by Lisa Steffes

In part 1 of our blog, Anne already told you about her experience working in a surf camp in Costa Rica. If you haven’t read it yet, go over and check it out first. You can find the first part of the blog here.

Working at Summer Camp

After I finished my A-levels in Germany, I was looking for different options to work abroad in the field of youth work. While doing so, I found a company called Camp America. Camp America is a program where you can apply for various jobs at summer camps all over the USA. As I had really enjoyed working as a camp counsellor in Germany before, I was interested in combining doing what I love with gaining new skills and getting to know a different culture. After an intense application period, I got placed at International Gymnastics Camp, short IGC.

IGC is a private overnight camp with a focus on gymnastics, located in Pennsylvania. It offers beds for up to 400 boys and girls from 7 to 17 years of age. They sleep in 27 fully equipped cabins with at least 2 counsellors. IGC offers professional gymnastic coaching in 4 different gyms and recreational fun at the same time. Most campers stay for one session, which is 6 days, but others stay for several sessions.  

I was hired as a recreational and general counsellor. When I first arrived, I had so many questions. Who am I going to work with? What exactly will I have to do? How will I adapt to not speaking my mother tongue for about three months? The first week we had staff training where we got to know each other, explored the campgrounds and the recreational equipment. During staff training and regularly throughout the weeks we had lessons about child safety, recreational planning, and a variety of other related topics. I also was really lucky to get chosen to be trained as a jet-ski instructor.  

Bunk beds inside a woodem cabin. The beds are messy.
What living with 17 teenagers can look like. Photo: Lisa Steffes.

Being a general counsellor meant taking care of all girls of my cabin, day and night, for 6 days at a time. I was placed in Cabin 17 with a gymnastics coach from Northern Ireland. We had up to 17 new campers from age 11 to 14, every week.

IGC offers all traditional camp activities from swimming, arts & crafts, various sports, gaga ball to a high ropes course, kayaking and jet-skiing. Every day, I was stationed at a different recreational activity. My job was to make my station fun and safe while offering a new „cabin challenge“ every day, where the campers could collect „cabin points“. The cabin which had the most points at the end of the session won “cabin of the week” and could stay up later on the last evening and have a pizza party.

A typical day at camp began with getting ready before waking up all my campers. Then, every cabin got called over the speakers to go and have breakfast. After breakfast we went back to the cabin to clean and get the kids ready to go to their first session in the gyms. As a recreational counsellor, it was my job to bring them to the gyms and make sure they all arrived safely before heading to the “counsellor classroom” to do some office work and plan the recreational activities for the afternoon and evening. Afterwards I went back to my cabin to clean and wait for the campers to come and get ready for lunch. Whenever we had some extra time in the cabin, the girls asked me to braid their hair, make friendship bracelets for them and play card games. 

Canoos on a lake shore. It's evening and the lake is calm, there is a small fountain in the middle of the lake.
The calm before the storm. Photo: Trine Larsen.

Lunch can be challenging at camp. Taking care of allergies, making sure that all 17 kids are done eating before the next session starts and that they ate something else than only cookies. Now it was time to bring the campers to the gyms again. As the girls going to dance class had a bit of extra time, we mostly had a game of foosball. Finally, I had some time off where I met with my counsellor friends to hang out, get some extra caffeine to survive the day or just take a very needed nap. This was also the only time of the day where I could use my phone as IGC is an electronic free camp and you’re not allowed to use any kind of technology elsewhere but in “heroes hall”, the staff break room.  

In the afternoon, when the campers came back to the cabin, we got ready for recreation. Does everyone have what they need? Swimsuits, towels, closed shoes to play some gaga ball? Finally, I went to my station for the day and prepared everything for the campers. During recreation, the campers could walk freely over the whole campgrounds and decide what they want to do. They could go to a station or just hang out with their friends. Most kids were really keen on winning “cabin points“ for their cabin. Therefore, we had to create a different “cabin challenge“ for every station and every day. This was not always easy as we sometimes only had a few minutes to come up with something that was creative and fun. 

Chalk drawings on pavement. Near is a cabin in the woods.
Evening activity. Photo: Trine Larsen.

After recreation we met back at the cabin to head to the last meal of the day. The campers could decide whether they want to have another session in the gym or do recreation. Every evening the whole camp met once again to have a special evening activity. We did camp dances, a bunch of cabin activities like scavenger hunts and S’mores, just to name a few. My favourite was “cabin cheers”, where every cabin had to think of a skit or song and present it to the whole camp. The campers always loved to be creative and were proud after the performance. After “social hour”, in which the campers had some free time, we all headed back to the cabin to go to sleep. 

Camp was the most positive and happy place I have ever been. I have never experienced such an amazing atmosphere where you could just be who you are, without any judgement. 

Although there were ups and downs, the camp gave me so many opportunities to grow as an instructor but also as a person. I can only recommend working at a summer camp to everyone interested in working with kids. It is a really intense and challenging time where you are going to get a lack of sleep and time for yourself, but you meet so many amazing people, staff and campers, form strong friendships while you get inspired to make the best out of every day and enjoy every moment. 

Thee girls smiling.
Celebrating 4th of July. Photo: Siiri Muhonen.

For me, camp was the perfect opportunity to learn and grow while having the best time of my life. 

n conclusion, even though we had two very different jobs we both had a wonderful time. We gained new experiences, learned many new skills and could develop ourselves. Both of us got a very good insight into possible jobs as an Adventure Educator. We can only recommend taking the Practical Training as an opportunity to get a close look into the adventure industry! Be open minded, keen and take on the challenge.  We hope that tourism will be possible again soon and that we can gain more experience in the field of Outdoor and Adventure Education next season. 

If you want to find out more about the program or IGC, check out the links below: 



Last modified: June 1, 2021