Monthly Archives:October 2019

“Coming Home” – Then & Now (from Camper to Lawyer)

by Alex Karahalios, former camper & counselor

I remember the feeling I had when it was time to head up to Camp Woodland for the first time. My parents kissed me goodbye and I begrudgingly stepped onto a large coach bus to confront a sea of unfamiliar faces. As an eleven year old who had never been away from home for more than a typical school day or sleepover, knowing that I would not be coming home for four weeks was paralyzing.

Two weeks into the summer, my parents came to visit. I ran out of Tamarack, jumped to hug my parents, and then promptly sat them down to talk. With my friends – not so subtly – hiding behind a tree in the assembly area, I asked my parents if I could stay for six weeks instead of just four. “Oh, honey, I wouldn’t do that to you! I know how much you didn’t want to come, and I don’t want to make you stay one second more than you already are,” my father said with a smirk to convey his victory. “Dad, please!” I insisted, “I can’t leave. I’ll miss Coed Show and Woodland Fair and everyone says the last two weeks are the best and when you think about it two weeks really isn’t that long of a time anyway…” My parents looked at each other, smiled, and told me I could stay. Immediately, I turned around to give my friends a thumbs up, to which they all jumped out of their hiding places to celebrate. Flash forward one year to a twelve-year-old girl who cannot push her mother out of the door fast enough to get in the car and head north. That feeling of excitement and impatience to soak up as much Northwoods sun as I could get my hands on would flood me every single June for the next six years: every time I was finally coming home.

Since graduating from college at Northwestern University, I have been fortunate to come home twice: once as a counselor the summer following graduation and once for Woodland’s 50th Anniversary Celebration. The first summer I came home to reconnect with the roots of my childhood and reset before three years of law school at the University of Virginia. The second visit was another coming home celebration, but this time only for three short days. Those three days as a visitor, however, gave me the perspective I did not realize I needed before beginning an intense interview process to work at a law firm.

I arrived at the Rhinelander airport after an early morning wakeup call in Washington, DC and was greeted by four of my best camp friends. Back together after many years, it was all but too natural for us to revert back to our camp routine: we arrived at our base, put our things down on our respective beds, washed our hands, and turned right back around to the next activity. The rest of the weekend allowed us to delve completely into our old camper selves as we ran from one activity to another after the bell, changed quickly into our appropriate activity-wear, and arrived at each meal ravenous and already ready for seconds. Those three days went by just as quickly as I remember every six weeks.

What I didn’t realize until after the 50th Anniversary was that weekend was all of the interview preparation I needed. Having just reconnected with the place where I developed all of the skills I would need as a law firm summer associate, they were fresh in my mind and ready to go: my fluency in Spanish, my ability to work in a group, my independence in completing tasks, my ability to multitask and manage multiple responsibilities at once, my timeliness, and my intellectual curiosity. Unsurprisingly, my nine summers at camp came up quite a few times during my interviews. I detailed how supplementing my Spanish education over the summer through practicing with my best friends from Mexico pushed me to fluency and inspired me to pursue the language as one of my majors in college.

I confidently assured them that spending six weeks in a cabin with seven other girls and one bathroom prepared me well to work alongside any kind of personality even in the most pressured and dire of circumstances. I recalled how cabin cleanup taught me the importance of playing my part in the team. I explained how the ability to choose the activities of my day and the goals I wanted to reach within each of them meant that I could independently manage the responsibilities I assumed. I understood the importance deadlines and promptness from running out of instructional swim to riding so that I could start my lesson on time. And I demonstrated how the encouragement I received at camp to always try new things – food included – inspired my curiosity to also try new classes, legal internships, cities to live in, and career paths.

Coming home as a camper, CIT, or counselor every year was the release of pent up excitement and impatience that grew throughout the school year and culminated in a new summer adventure. Coming home as an alumni was the timely reminder that those nine summers continue to shape me and propel me forward to new professional adventures I never could have foreseen when I confronted that sea of unfamiliar faces eleven years ago.