By Jill Goldstein Smith
[As part of FJC’s summer blog series on 21st Century Skills, we are featuring personal stories from camp alumni and professionals across the field exemplifying how Jewish camp provided the ideal environment to become the best version of themselves. Follow along all summer long, and share how Jewish camp impacted your growth! Tell us your story in the comments, on Facebook or tweet @JewishCamp using the hashtag #JCampSkills.]
We’ve all heard it in one form or another: “I can’t go to camp this summer, I have to go get a real job.”
And perhaps many of us have heard from various camp leadership staff and organizations and retreats (for me it was drilled into my brain at the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Cornerstone Fellowship conference) – camp IS a real job, and it is a deep journey in professional development.
I applied to work at the New York University TV station while in college. My resume listed my Broadcast Journalism major, related internships and coursework, and I also included an “additional skills” section… which included my Archery teaching certification. Archery? Yea, I’m not too athletic, but the previous summer, several of us trained to teach it at URJ Camp Coleman. Somehow that little tidbit caught the eye of the Station Director, and it became a great topic of conversation between us. It totally broke the ice, and I really believe it helped me land the job. But that was just the beginning.
Finding a full-time job before graduating, in a competitive field, in the 2008 economy, was quite a challenge.
So, when I landed an interview at a 24/7 cable TV news station, I was surprised to learn that my summers working at overnight camp was what set me apart. BAM!
My potential supervisor recounted stories of his time at Boy Scout camp as I shared about my time at Jewish overnight camp and the related leadership development opportunities it had provided. Our conversation didn’t focus on campfire s’mores and scary stories; instead, we discussed the behind-the-scenes responsibilities of a counselor and how the experiences at camp related to the fast-paced field of television news. The pressure of being responsible for creating and executing programs on short notice with limited resources develops skills which directly translate to a calm, focused, and resourceful employee in any high-stress environment (such as a television control room in the midst of breaking news). He totally got it.
One of the most obvious transferrable skills I learned at camp was critical thinking and creative problem solving. Ever need to think fast on your feet, developing ways to entertain large groups of children stuck inside during a scary thunderstorm with access to only five apples, two rolls of toilet paper, and a purple hula hoop? These kinds of skills became useful during breaking news in the broadcast studio many times. I developed the confidence to remain levelheaded while producers scrambled around me. I was able to focus on the task at-hand, communicating with reporters across New York City, multitasking to direct audio and camera operators while troubleshooting around equipment malfunctioning. Sometimes it meant throwing a planned traffic report out the window, or switching from a live press conference whose signal we lost to an in-house camera with less than a moment’s notice, all the while making sure our master control room was kept in the loop. After my experience on programming staff at camp, thinking “out of the box” was second nature to me – a skill carefully refined over many summers of coordinating supplies, navigating a variety of personalities, empowering teams, developing educational content, and planning off-site trip logistics at camp.
Reflecting on my initial interview, I know that had I not been speaking to another “camp person,” I would have been able to convey the ways camp-learned skills could influence my success:
- Communication – You develop this skill in-depth while working closely with co-counselors from various cultural backgrounds who sometimes even speak different languages. Understanding effective methods of speaking with supervisors, young campers, and folks of every age is extremely valuable.
- Flexibility & being a quick learner – You never know which specialist is going to be sick and at any moment you might have to teach dance or basketball or how to make a mosaic out of pom-poms and googley eyes. Realize you’re the only person old enough to drive the camp van last-minute? Sure, you’ll join that overnight camping trip even though it’s your one night off.
- Teamwork – This may be the most obvious, and it’s completely applicable to most professions. Whether it’s pitching a tent, accomplishing ropes course feats, or giving your campers a successful summer even when you and co-counselor aren’t BFFs, you’re committed to the team and working with others.
- Fun – Who doesn’t like being around someone who loves fun and understands the appropriate time and place for it? You give it your all, jumping in with sincere dedication – just like any awesome Maccabiah or Color War/Olympics captain would.
- And, working with children can be helpful in a direct way, too. I helped coordinate the TV station’s “Bring Your Child to Work Day” activities for years, assisted with portions of the college internship program, and led interactive tours of the station for boy scout troops, school and camp groups – all because of my experience working with kids and supervising peers and young adults. Pitching in beyond my typical duties helped me stand out amongst my peers, and my camp experience gave me those opportunities.
All of these are fantastic skills practiced and developed at camp, and they are all highly valued in jobs across professional fields – in marketing or business, in courtrooms and classrooms, financial to food services, and so many others.
So the next time someone tells you that summer camp isn’t a real job, remember: Situations you face in the world of camping can be as REAL as it gets!
Jill Goldstein Smith attended URJ Camp Coleman as a camper, counselor, unit educator and program coordinator from 1997-2008 and spent two summers at the URJ Kutz Camp leadership program. After 7+ years in the television news industry, she joined the Foundation for Jewish Camp last November.