Fostering Relationships

As I turn on my computer and check my e-mail, I realize how my summer as a camp counselor was not just another summer job. It was more than that. I was a role model and a friend.

I still keep in contact with many campers from my cabin. They e-mail me about the usual things on a 13- or 14-year old girl's mind -- friends, school, sports, and most importantly, boys.

Being 21 and in a different stage of my life, it's fun to hear about their first dates, going to dances, and their parties. In a sense it makes me feel old because I don't understand their lingo and have to ask them embarrassingly what they are talking about. But, in another sense it totally brings me back to that age when describing your boyfriend entails, "So hot, the star of the basketball team, and totally popular."

Learning to start a fire, read a compass, paddle a kayak, play tennis, and shoot a bow and arrow are all essential parts of camp. But, there is another side of camp that includes creating a bond with your cabin mates and counselors. This side should not be overlooked.

Creating Bonds

To create these great relationships, my co-counselors and I made it a priority to have time as a cabin to hang out. We started off the first day getting to know each of our 15-20 campers.

It was our goal to learn each of their names by dinnertime and usually we were successful. My nickname at camp was Dizzy and my partners were Disco and Sunny, so the campers had an easier time remembering our names.

We also made sure that none of our campers were feeling left out. During the week, we would sleep in the teepee and tell ghost stories, go on a picnic lunch on the beach, create a lip sync to compete with the other cabins, and give back massages during rest hour.

One of our favorite cabin things to do was something called Mag. Disco (my co-counselor) and I wanted to be talk show hosts together and Mag was going to be the name of our show.

So, in our cabin, we would sneakily dress up in silly outfits, blare some Rolling Stones music, and enter the cabin like it was our talk show stage.

We would pick a topic for the day and then pick audience members (our campers) to come on the show and talk about their problems. In a flash, the whole cabin was roaring with laughter as they each took their turn on the talk show and talked about their fictitious and silly problems.

Every night before we went to bed we talked about what was on their minds. We discussed who were the cutest boys at camp and talked about our most humiliating moments.

The campers asked us a lot of questions, and believe me, they were not afraid to ask anything. Disco, Sunny, and I looked at them as our little sisters and they looked at us as their big sisters.

By the end of the week, we had shared so much and became so close and it was time to say goodbye. Our last night of girl bonding was held in the counselor part of the cabin and we would all sit in a circle. Each camper took their turn at saying their favorite part of the week and what they would miss most about camp.

It was nice to have a time to reflect on the week and to have closure. We exchanged e-mails and addresses and agreed to keep in touch.

So back at school, as the lack of interest rises from studying for exams and writing papers, I love to hear "You've got mail" coming from my computer speakers.

The e-mails from the campers bring me back to the relaxing and fun-filled days of my summer at camp and remind me of the great and meaningful relationships built at camp that will keep us coming back for summers to come.

Camp is a time to experience and appreciate nature. It is also a time to improve on abilities and learn new skills. Aside from this, there is an emotional part of camp.

Creating new friendships and building self-confidence helps each camper grow. This is what makes camp fun and keeps the campers coming back year after year.

Elizabeth Bergstrom is a junior at Marquette University in Milwaukee, and was a counselor at Camp Tekawitha in Shawano, Wis., last summer.

Bryan BuchkoComment