All of you reading this don’t need me to tell you about the benefits of Scouts. We all know that it can give you so much; lifelong friends, teamwork skills, the confidence to lead and be followed. But what if I told you that you could use everything you’ve learned in Scouts to have the best summer of your life? A summer that you’ll talk about again and again? And best of all you’ll get paid for it? Read on and I’ll tell you all about how I did it and why you should too.
My J1 experience was in California over the summer of 2014. I worked at a summer camp called Mountain Camp in the Eldorado National Forest, about an hour from South Lake Tahoe or to be more precise the middle of nowhere. The electricity came from a generator, the water from a well, there was almost no phone signal and even less internet access, and it was amazing. With around 50 staff members made up of Camp Counselors, Directors, Kitchen and Grounds staff, alongside 250 kids aged from 7 to 16 each week it was fun and hectic in equal measure.
Back then getting a J1 was easier as you didn’t need to have a job already lined up like you do today; a camp job offers the perfect way to do this. There are a number of companies who will connect you with various camps all across America. I chose Camp Leaders who for a fee organised a training day in Dublin, explained the steps required to obtain a J1 visa, and set up a number of Skype interviews. I would advise you to shop around and talk to people who have used other companies as the fees and help can vary, in other words get the best value for your money especially if they’ll be taking a cut of your wages over the summer too.
I spent three months hanging around with a great bunch of people in the Californian sun, I lead activities like survival skills, short film making, mountain bikes, ropes course, archery, bottle rocket building, and orienteering. We sang silly songs at lunch and dinner (never breakfast!), made fools of ourselves on stage, and had parties at the lake. We went rafting, skydiving, and headed to the gun range on our days off. This will never be the best paying job you’ll have but I’m willing to bet that it will be the most fun one. You’ll make friends from all over the world, you’ll break out of your comfort zone, you’ll even have a month at the end of the J1 to travel. If the camp I worked at or the activities I lead don’t appeal to you then fear not, there are many different types of camp from arts to sports, there are farm camps, religiously themed camps and camps for special needs kids, there’s something for everyone.
The J1 visa gives those of us outside the USA a chance to get a proper feel of the real America, not the tired stereotypes or brash image of Fox News. Ireland may well be the land of the welcomes but make no mistake our cousins across the Atlantic are just as warm. The people, the weather, and the food are reason enough to visit, working at a camp is the cherry on top. Do it.