I’ll start with a confession: I only left two comments on blogs I hadn’t previously commented on. Sorry! Slapped wrist duly administered. Moving on.
One of the comments I left was at Kat in Cali, on her most recent post regarding a recruitment fair for summer camp staff. This weekend, it’ll be a year since I attended a camp fair as a prospective employee, and walked away with a signed contract to work at my camp. I was aware that the anniversary was pending, partly because the agency I signed with have been heavily promoting their upcoming fairs via social media, but Kat’s post made me think back to my experience. I’ll take a step back before I cover how Kat’s post made me think, because I don’t think I’ve fully told my story on the blog.
In December 2012, the re-think of my life which had been bubbling under for almost a year turned into some actual decisions being made. When I left university, I’d always been a little torn over what to do with my life: I enjoy city lifestyles – access to exciting things to do, being amongst friends who live nearby – but I grew up in the countryside and my true passion has always been horses. I took the easy decision when I graduated in 2010, and chose to live the London life for a little while, get it out of my system and move back to the country once I was ready to settle down. Reality didn’t work out quite how I hoped.
The short story is that I missed the countryside too much. I missed riding (I know this is unfair to the amazing riding centres which exist inside the M25, but I lived in south London, which is a very expensive place to ride, and getting to the outskirts of north London to do so? Takes two hours. One way). And the main question which existed is the one my nine-year old self kept tapping me on the shoulder and asking me: “I want to do a job which means I can wear jodhpurs. Why aren’t you finding me one?”
I ignored the nine-year old for most of 2012. The day she burst into tears when her Dad picked her up at the train station one Friday night in December was the point at which I had to start listening. And that’s when the radical decisions happened: I realised it was time to quit my job, move out of the city and make my career about horses. And I knew it had to be a job which involved physical contact, not something I was actually already qualified for like working in an office for a governing body, or at a magazine, or organising shows. I’d had the dream of teaching riding for a long time, and I decided to start there.
A test run seemed like a good idea, and I knew that working at a summer camp would give me an opportunity to actually teach (rather than starting out as a groom somewhere closer to home) and see if I enjoyed it. The other bonus about camp is that qualifications aren’t mandatory – just a good manner, willingness to work hard and experience. So in January, it was time to go out and sell myself.
I was nervous about so many elements of the recruitment fair, which is unlike me: I love interviews (I think anyone who doesn’t is mad – it’s a chance to talk about yourself and have someone listen! It’s impossible to give an incorrect answer). I think what frightened me the most was not getting the position I wanted, because I only wanted one – as a horseback counsellor. My guess had been that the camps would want either general counsellors or instructors for other sports, such as waterfront or tennis. And I’d lost a little confidence since my wild decision-making over Christmas: what if there were loads of highly-qualified applicants? What if I just wasn’t good enough?
I had made a narrow field for myself, I was being picky about the camps I was looking at. I wanted somewhere with a decent-sized horseback programme (my research had found that some of the camps only had six or eight horses – my guess was that with that number, lessons wouldn’t be taught all day and my practical experience would be limited). I wasn’t bothered about location, but I didn’t want somewhere with an overly-religious emphasis.
When I finally made it through the doors of the recruitment fair, it was very busy. I was unprepared for what I’d find: lots of queueing, and what seemed like slight chaos. I quickly realised that the camp directors had scribbled their desires on posters behind their desks, so I did a scan of the room to find out which camps I should queue for, and which I should avoid. As I’d suspected, many wanted lifeguards. To my surprise, several had signs saying “no generals”. I started to feel a bit better.
The first camp I spoke to were really nice, and part of me wishes I’d had more time to think about my decision and consider them further. Their horseback director interviews candidates personally (which I think is highly appropriate) and wasn’t able to attend, so they pre-screened me and told me she would email a comprehensive list of questions (which she did a day later). I queued for another camp, and tried to listen to what the people in front of me were discussing. The girl sat at the desk when I joined the queue accepted a job and was really excited. Then a girl and a guy (a couple) were interviewed one by one and both rejected. My heart dropped, even though I’d been encouraged by a former member of staff who was working the queue (and had been a horseback counsellor) prior to us being interviewed.
It was my turn. I sat down, handed over my application and spoke briefly with the director. She’d also had a quick exchange with the former member of staff I’d been speaking to, who was excited about me being interested in horseback. A few quick questions later, I was offered a contract. I hesitated (something I almost always do when offered a job), but accepted – the agency advise that if you’re offered a job at a fair, you don’t turn it down. I left the fair with a signed contract and my summer mapped out. I was on my way, if a little shell-shocked.
The rest, as they say, is history. My summer is documented on my blog. I’m returning to the same job at the same camp this summer, though with a slightly different outlook. I’m excited, but possibly a bit more organised.
The final thing that Kat’s post made me begin to think about is the discussion often had between campers and staff: camp means something different to everyone. Most staff are international (it’s no secret that the jobs don’t pay very well, but the benefit for international staff is the working visa with a month’s grace period after your contract ends), but there are usually a handful of Americans, many of whom dedicate their lives to the ethos of camp. It’s a strange concept for Brits, summer camp still not really existing in our culture. I’ll perhaps explore this issue in greater depth in a future post. For now, I’ve written far more than I intended – probably a sign of how much someone else’s blog got me thinking!
As I watch the agencies and camps tweet about their recruitment, I find myself wondering who I’ll meet this summer. Will my camp sign any horseback staff this weekend? I’ll find out in a few months…