One of the best ways to obtain an authentic American experience is becoming a camp counselor. Every year, 6.9 to 11 million children spend a few to eight weeks at a summer camp, and all these kids need to be supervised, entertained and educated. That is what the camp counselor does. Since the American population itself can not provide the camps with the more than 1.5 million staff members they need, about 20% of all counselors comes from abroad.
To become a camp counselor in the United States, there are only a few requirements. First of all, you need to be 18 years of age. Since you'll be working with American children, a good command of English is essential. You'll also have to enjoy working with these kids, and it helps when you have experience. Camps are mainly looking for young, cheerful, outgoing individuals who have some kind of expertise. Because if you do, your skill(s) might be the difference between you becoming a general camp counselor or a specialist camp counselor.
All camps also need so-called support staff, which are the kitchen workers, the cleaners, maintenance, etc. To become support staff, you will have to be a fulltime student as the role of support staff is categorized under the "Summer Work Travel Program", which is a different category than the "Camp Counselor Program" that doesn't require the participant to be enrolled at an academic institution.
Regardless of the job you obtain, you will find that your experience at an American summer camp is an intense combination of beauty, sadness, happiness, achievement, discovery of unknown talents and a rollercoaster ride of emotions. It is, in short, a pretty magical experience that you can only achieve when you're a young adult but will remain with you for the rest of your life. It's a true life experience that will give you a headstart in your growth as a person.
So the general description of the job is working with children, but the job is hard to describe into detail. One day you'll find yourself lifeguarding in the morning and doing arts&crafts in the afternoon. And then you'll be a soccer trainer and a martial artist the next day. Of course you're never alone in your endeavors to share your skills with the campers. Most camps maintain a ratio of 1 counselor to 4 children, whilst some may have slightly smaller or larger ratios.
Staff members are not volunteers: it is a paid position. This, however, doesn't mean that you'll get rich: over an eight to ten week period, you'll be paid around $1,000 (for first-years). This is because many camps will pay for your flight and deduct the costs. However, food and shelter are free, so if you're not too crazy with your spendings during the job, earnings can be added to your budget for your post-camp travels through the US (or how about South-America?).
Most camps are located in truly unique locations. They'll be on private property (which means that nobody but authorized persons (staff, campers, and occasionally the parents) are allowed at camp) and it's not just some clearing in the woods, but almost a small town in its own right. Many camps are on a lake, have soccer fields, a swimming pool, tennis yards, a dining hall, a hangout, and then there are all the wooden cabins where the campers sleep with often two counselors.
In the morning, it's the responsibility of the counselors to wake up the campers, get them washed and dressed in time for breakfast, and then get them started for their activities. While your campers go off to do their thing, you go off to do your own thing (eg. the activity you've been assigned to to lead). Sometimes, as a specialist counselor, you won't have a bunk group of campers to take care of, which leaves you with more time to organize your activities and schedule your own time around the tasks that a summercamp may ask you to perform (like helping set up for the weekly dance night). In the evening, it's your job to make sure that the campers go to bed on time (which can be quite an undertaking).
To help you get started, here are some links to organizations in the United States which are approved by the State Department to issue J-1 visa documentation for the Camp Counselor Program:
These organizations often work together with agencies in your home country and may direct you to their partner in order to sign up for the program. Each organization has a participation fee (or sign-up fee).
SHARE YOUR CAMP EXPERIENCE!
Have you already been to the United States as a camp counselor? Then why not inform other youngsters to inspire them to have a similar experience? Your story matters! If you would love to share your story, send it to me in no more than 1,000 words (email@example.com) and I'll see if we can use it for publication. Also, if you have been a counselor in another country (how about Russia?) I would love to hear from as well.