Reflections on being a Camp Counselor, Part One

Coit Tower in San Francisco. Taken in July of 2012.

As mentioned earlier last month, I picked up a temporary position as a camp counselor at a local college here in the San Francisco area. What I thought to be my first teaching gig turned out to what amounted an activity leader for 100 awesome Italian high school students.

Let me start from the beginning: a couple days before the kids arrived I met with my boss from Italy and one of my co-workers. That was when I found out it wasn’t a teaching position. Damn all that hype about me actually getting some experience in the field went down. But then I was cool and collected myself and made a promise to myself that perhaps this assignment would yield great rewards to myself personally and emotionally.

Boy was I going to be amazed.

At first it was unnerving. I remember in the first couple of nights trying to sleep, instead I was staring at the ceiling thinking that I was in way over my head. Even with my technical training and life experience this was certainly something new, exciting, and certainly a little unnerving.

There’s a lot to be said of my experience, so I decided to break it up into several different parts to make my trains of thought easier.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy. 

The Company/Program

I was hired by a third party company called Summer Camp Recruit. They in turn were working for the Italian sub-division of a UK company called International Quest, who holds English Summer camps in the UK, USA, Canada, and a couple other different countries. In this case, for the year of 2012, the site that I was at hosted 100 Italian high school students from various parts of the Italy. Everyone of them paid 2 grand just to come to the United States (many for the first time in their lives) to study and to use their English in a setting where they would have to use it.

The Teachers

The median age was 16, many of these kids are already English students back in their home country. What I discovered throughout the two weeks from both teachers and students is that the program(s) and the results of the teaching in Italy is similar to language programs here in the states. In Italy students begin learning English just before they hit middle school; at about 10 years of age. However like in the states, a lot of the teachers who taught English have very little experience living in an English-speaking country in their years before becoming a teacher. They would also be teaching the kids a lot of “classical” English material – I was talking to one of them (who would become my favorite teacher in the group) and she often liked Shakespeare and the more classical British and American authors and artists and gave that to the kids. Great education however a little lacking on the practical side. Which is the main reason why this group is here in SF.

The Students

What I’ve come to realize is that teenagers are the same in every culture on Earth. Same type of moods, wants, needs, gossip, and dynamic. The only different is well the culture and language spoken. The Italians were no different, with a few exceptions. The jocks here in the America are primarily the football players – in Europe it is the Soccer players. English is taught starting from age 10 or 11 – earlier than most American students and is mandatory. The level of competency however differs from each individual. There are some with years of English instruction yet it takes effort for the myself and my co worker to help them put together meaning. While there are others who have no accent to their English and all they need is information on American slang.

My Co-workers

My boss is originally from Palermo, a city in Northern Sicily. An attractive 40 something single mother, she will prove to be an entertaining, frustrating, head-scratching, awe-inspiring, headstrong, interesting, and unforgettable experience and boss to work with. During that time I was also with two women who I lived with named *BrownEye and *BlondeOne. at 19 and 22 years old respectively, I will later discover that they unfortunately have the stereotypical limited, American viewpoint of things (whereas I actually did some research as how to work with Italians). My relationship with my boss will eventually be a good one, with my two other camp counselors not so much.

Now that I have laid the foundation, next up I will be talking about the places that I took them to and the events that were planned for them.

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4 thoughts on “Reflections on being a Camp Counselor, Part One

  1. My wife has worked in the Italian school system and found the Italian kids to be generally more respectful than their American counterparts. She puts it down to Italy having a more family and extended family oriented culture in which older members of the family are respected more.

    Also, in the Italian public school system English was only allowed to be taught by an Italian teacher – native English speakers are allowed in the classroom but only as assistants. I’m not sure if this is still the way they do things but back in the day it hampered the students ability to converse in the language – their grammar was often very good, but not speaking with a native speaker really held many of them back. Often the Italian teacher was so bad at conversing in the English language that it was actually impossible to understand what they were saying even though their knowledge of grammar was exceptional.

    In private international schools it was a different story and the level and quality of student’s spoken English was much higher amongst those who had that educational background because native English speakers were allowed be the main English teacher.

    Overall, I’ve always thought that the Italian school system is a bit more holistic – they teach things like philosophy in middle and high school, and their graduating exams include a conversational aspect in which they sit face to face with their examiners and must converse intelligently on the subjects that they have studied and are then graded accordingly.

    Anyways, it sounds like an interesting and fun experience. Look forward to the next posts.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Ben! All great information that confirms a lot of my experiences with the teachers and students that I had while I was with them. It seems that often in language courses all over the world (Americans included) the technical aspects are emphasized but the practical is not – or at least not readily accessible.

      That’s interesting that you said holistic. I didn’t see any of that. I did feel that they are more mature than my peers were at their age – reasonable given the different laws, higher cultural expectations, etc. I’ll touch up on these as I go along. Thanks again for stopping by.

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