By Ruzanna Sahakyan, CIEE Camp Exchange USA participant
My name is Ruzanna Sahakyan, I was born in Armenia but grew up in Bulgaria. I graduated from the National High School of Humanitarian Science and Arts and I am currently one state exam close to getting my bachelor’s degree in English and American studies. I live in the most beautiful city in Bulgaria - more precisely the sea capital, Varna - and right now I am doing my camp exchange program in the USA.
Visiting the USA has been one of my biggest dreams since I was 16 and now that I am in the USA it feels too surreal. Currently I live in Winthrop, ME where I am a counselor at the YMCA Camp of Maine. Camp comes to an end soon and my time in the USA is almost up. When I go back home my first priority will be to take my state exams and become an official bachelor’s graduate. Then I will start a job in order to save some money for yet another adventure. I will apply for a master’s degree in American studies in Bulgaria, however, I will spend the full academic year abroad as an Erasmus exchange student. Afterwards, when I am done with my job, master’s degree, and the exchange program, I will most likely enroll in some other type of exchange program. The thing I love the most about all those exchange programs is that a person gets to travel to different destinations without having to spend a lot of money.
I’m so grateful I got the chance to do my exchange program in the USA as it was one of the most affordable ways to come here, and I ended up having a great summer. I decided to be part of the CIEE Camp Exchange USA program for 2017 because, as I mentioned above, it has always been a dream of mine to visit the U.S. Also, I love traveling, I love teaching yoga and other sports and crafts, and now I know that I like working with kids as well. My responsibility at camp is to take care of the kids 24 hours, be their role model, their encouragement, their inspiration, and their teacher.
I have spent 1 month and 29 days at the YMCA Camp of Maine here at the Pine Tree state and I will have to leave this amazing place soon with a very heavy heart. One of the many interesting things about camp is that we have counselors, campers, and other staff members from all around the globe: Spain, Canada, China, UK, Ireland, Wales, Turkey, Italy, Poland, Russia, and Vietnam. I am very happy that the camp finally has Bulgarian and Armenian representatives. Not only do we have an amazing staff from different parts of the world, which makes the kids more open minded and enriches their culture, but also we have a very wide range of activities for the kids. Some of the activities include: Aqua Friendship Bracelet Making, Arts and Crafts Around the World, Mad Scientist, Improv, Lacrosse, Zumba, Yoga, Tennis, Ultimate Frisbee, Creature Catching, Challenge, etc. We make sure that our kids are never bored and that they will learn many new skills to show to their parents and friends.
I have heard many negative comments about the USA like that the kids are very spoiled, the nature has been wiped off from the face of the USA, the food is bad, and the people can be rude. Interestingly, I was glad to find out that all these things turned out to be so far from the truth. There are many factories and skyscrapers, indeed, but now I know from all the road trips that the nature here is incredibly rich and beautiful too. One can find spoiled kids almost everywhere and one thing is for sure - I didn’t meet any spoiled kids at camp! People in the U.S. are so gentle, kind, willing to help, and courteous. I was warned that the food here is mostly genetically modified, filled with sugars, carcinogenic ingredients and artificial coloring; these types of foods can be found in almost every place on the earth, not only in the U.S. Fortunately, here at camp, the people in charge make sure that the kids have access to healthy and nourishing foods and some treats for when they have a sweet tooth; the kitchen staff provides food for all the people who are vegetarian, vegan, gluten and lactose intolerant, allergic to certain nuts, and so on. In the end of the day, it was up to the kids whether they will reach for a fruit or go for the burgers, and we always encouraged them to drink water and have a few pieces of fruit.
I love everybody at camp because every single person is so kind and nice to the others. Not to mention how kind and sweet the directors and unit leaders, are which makes us feel all equal. Hands down, my most favorite people are Kim (aka the “Camp’s Mom”), Jeff Gleason’s wife, Lester who is the program director, and Natalie (aka “The Glitter Queen”) who is the arts and craft director. These people and everybody else made us, the counselors, feel at home away from home.
I have learned so many useful skills here at camp which I can easily put into use in my life; I learned skills which made me a better person. I have improved my communications skills, I have learned how to behave around children, how to be their role model and moral support, I have learned new skills and became more comfortable leading sport classes. I have experienced so many “first time” things like first time kayaking, making s'mores, eating Swedish Fish, being at a camp, seeing chipmunks, watching Netflix, etc. All these things combined made me more confident, which is something I have always lacked.
The past two months have been filled with so much laughter, positive energy, learning, dancing, singing, road trips, Game of Thrones nights with the staff members, camp fires, etc. I write this with a heavy heart because there is only one day left until the end of camp. Camp has been a place for me to spend my days with no stress, anxiety, negative energy, drama, worries, and all the other things from the reality. I will definitely miss the YMCA Camp of Maine and now it has a huge spot in my heart. My exchange program here at the YMCA Camp of Maine means a lot to me as it taught me how to be more responsible, honest, caring and respectful- the four core values we teach the kids here at Ycamp.
My advice to those who are interested in coming to the U.S. on CIEE Camp Exchange USA is to decide which part of the U.S. they want to live in - west, east, south, etc. - and then decide on a camp. Once you know that you want to work on the East Coast, for example, then it is going to be easier to decide on a camp. Secondly, if you do end up choosing a camp on the East Coast but you are completely sure that you want to travel on the West Coast post-camp, then I highly recommend buying plane tickets in advance as it is going to save you some money. Thirdly, if you are a big train enthusiast, then you should definitely buy in advance one of Amtrak’s train journeys. In general: make sure to bring your laptop, have some extra cash on you, plan your post-camp trip in advance, install the Hostel World app on your mobile device, as well as the MapMe app, prepare some amazing camp appropriate songs, stories, jokes, dances, and more ahead of time, and you will be ready for a summer filled with positive energy, laughter, swimming, sports, dances, and travels.