My Southwoods story began in July 2007. I had decided I wanted to go to America to live and work but had no idea how I was going to do it. Then a friend told me about working at summer camp and I thought it would be perfect for me.
Before then my only experience of summer camp was as a kid watching movies like 'The Parent Trap', 'Camp Nowhere' and one of those made-for-TV movies starring the Olsen twins. I had no idea that working at summer camp was even an option. But as soon as she said it, I had pretty much made up my mind.
The next few months were spent researching camps and exchange companies that could sponsor me to go. Filling out hours and hours of application forms, program agreements and personal information, was a major chore for someone like me, (I was never good at doing homework).
In November, just a few days after I finished all my paperwork, I got an email from Southwoods wanting to set up a phone interview. The conversation went well and ended with "we'll be in touch". I honestly didn't expect to hear back after that, I thought "there's no way I'll get a job from the first camp I spoke to". I later received an email from my exchange company reading "We are excited to inform you that you have been offered the position of Water Ski Instructor at Southwoods Summer Camp". I never spoke to another camp.
Before going to camp, I had never traveled on my own. My only trip out of Australia was on a family vacation to Thailand. I was introverted and shy, and although I was incredibly excited for the adventure I was about to have, I was also scared to death. Flying into New York City was daunting to say the least and taking the subway in the wrong direction did not help me feel better. But when I finally got to my hostel, met some of the awesome people I would be working with, and we all made our way into the beautiful Adirondack mountains, my worries seemed to fade away. I will never forget arriving at camp my first summer.
My first walk up the bunk line, comparing camp to the videos I'd seen and thinking it was the coolest place I had ever seen. My first look at the waterfront and how excited I was to say that it was my office for the next 3 months (and little did I know, for the next 5 summers). I remember a lot of firsts at camp: my first time getting in the lake, my first evening line up, my first sloppy joe (still my favorite). Having the life scared out of me by the deep, booming voices of the male Group Leader's chanting my first "give it to me one time". All of those little camp things that once seemed so strange and foreign to me and now feel like home.
And then we come to the people. Whether it is campers or staff, it’s the people at Southwoods that make it feel like home. My first summer at camp I was with the Upper Inter Boys and I got to see them grow into Chieftains and even a few into LIT's. This summer I get to see some of my boys come back as staff. I can't wait to see them in action. I have made countless friends I keep in close contact with. I visit a lot of them whenever I can. I am even lucky enough to say that I met my best friend in the world at Southwoods.
But even as I write about all of these amazing things that make Southwoods, Southwoods, I can't deny the one aspect of camp that brings me back each year. For some it is the people, for some it is the lifestyle, and for some it is just those memories of hanging out with friends and doing something fun or silly. But for me, it is and has always been, the moments of pride that working at Southwoods has given me.
These moments come in many different forms: finishing the waterfront set up at the start of the summer and looking out over a job well done, the look on a nervous camper's face after trying to water ski for the first time and succeeding, and helping a new child make a friend or making jokes to help them feel a little less nervous.
My proudest moment of all was the night I joined a group of amazing people who own a simple, grey T-shirt with two simple words. I felt genuinely honored to receive "The Way" shirt and I still remember the blur of shock I felt after Scott read my name. At the risk of sounding corny, it really was the proudest moment of my life.
For anyone coming to camp for the first time, if you get to experience even half of the amazing things Southwoods has given me, I promise you will have the best time of your life. See you this summer.
-Written by Gary Peacock, Southwoods Staff Member