Camp Woodland Blog

Making the Transition from Woodland Camper to Counselor

There’s no doubt that working as a Woodland counselor is the most purposeful, fun, and growth-filled way to spend your summer (but don’t just take it from us!). We recently spent time having a Zoom conversation with the 2023 first year staff members who graduated from our CIT program as we wanted to hear directly from them about their experience being a counselor for the very first time.

We took a deep dive into the transition that occurs each summer for a group of girls who are typically longtime and extremely loyal campers. This group of 6 was no exception! They all started camp in 2014 (around the age of 9-10 yrs old) and spent 8 consecutive summers as a camper/CIT and 1 year on staff 2023. For those of you who are already doing the math in your head, you probably came to the conclusion that this entire group will be celebrating their 10th summer in the Northwoods on Sand Lake, and you would be absolutely correct. JoAnne, please make sure we have restocked our Woodland 10 yr blanket supply!

Please join us in our engaging and enlightening conversation:

What is your first year of college like? What is a superpower you have because you went to/worked at camp?

  • Monica: I live in a triple with two other girls, and one of the other girls was also a camp counselor. We talk about how being at camp teaches you how to live with other people outside of your family and how to respect boundaries and live with people in a new environment.
  • Molly: It makes me more open minded to meeting other people and meeting new types of people. A lot of my friends from home are pretty similar, so meeting many different people at camp teaches me a great skill to apply at school or wherever I go.
  • Tori: Teamwork is no stranger to me, including trusting other people to get things done. I also know how to communicate with other people and understand the delicate balance between taking the lead and knowing when to take a step back.

What made you decide to apply to work on staff after 8 summers as a camper?

  • Molly: As a camper I realized that I was building up to something; not being a counselor would have left me feeling incomplete. It was the natural next step.
  • Katherine: I want to teach in the future, so working at camp is good experience for a field like that.
  • Monica: I always looked up to my counselors so much, and coming to camp as a staff member is a way I can give back to the wonderful role models I had growing up.

Describe your summer on staff in a ONE word:

  • Katherine: NEW. I felt this way with CIT years too, each change at camp is different. Even with all of the things you are familiar with each summer, you are also thinking about different things and have a different mindset.
  • Aubrie: CHALLENGING. I agree with Katherine’s word, “new”, and when things are new they are challenging. Experiencing things is how you figure out what to do, so it’s challenging to be in a new experience. And, there is no way to fully prepare.
  • Molly: REWARDING. Building off the previous words of new and challenging, it also takes a little bit to get acclimated. The relationships with campers and co-counselors was so worth it and so rewarding.
  • Isa: – ENERGETIC. For me this summer was filled with energy. I was always trying to be bright and uplifting for the campers. I used a lot of energy in everything I did. 

Being on staff is pretty different from being a camper! What advice do you have on the transition from camper to counselor?

  • Monica: I was told that you won’t get to see your friends as much. I realized the main difference is going to camp for yourself as a camper and thinking about what camp can do for you. You will now think about what you can do to help camp.
  • Tori: It is common to be nervous, but also important to be confident. If you act nervous, it creates a cycle going in that direction. Being confident makes it easier for campers to be on the right path and follow the expectations of group living. 
  • Aubrie:  You will not only taking care of campers, but you will also be building a relationship and bonding with them. It easy to remember to just to take care of them and get them going to what is happening next. Without that  relationship; however, you would miss a lot of things. I found it is really important to do both.
  • Katherine: – I remember the 1st day campers arrive that it was awkward and that this develops naturally over time. If a camper is really nervous at the start, it takes time for them to feel comfortable with you.
  • Isa: Remember that you were also a camper and try to remember yourself at their age. It helped me with my new campers telling them that what they were feeling was totally normal and that I went through the same my first year. It also helped to remember what counselors where like when I was a certain age and what things I liked and what things I didn’t. It is like being the counselor that you needed at your age but for them. An example for me was at swimming lessons; I tried to make it fun because I remember what it was like being 9 and going into the cold lake to swim. 

Was there anything that surprised you about working on staff for the first time or anything you wish you knew about being a counselor but didn’t?

  • Isa: It’s honestly going to be easier than you think. In my case, coming back as a counselor after so many years and after being a second year CIT was not as intimidating as I thought it would be. At the beginning, it’s funny that you’re the one in charge and it feels like you’re in the wrong place, but then you get used to it. Coming after being a CIT I thought that it wasn’t going to be more of a change but it’s also very tiring at times. You need to look after yourself and really take advantage of your time off to reset. 
  • Monica: It is good to remember that each camper is unique in their own way with their development.
  • Molly: Sometimes it is OK just to let campers do certain things. I found myself trying hard to keep campers from being close friends with another camper because I didn’t want other girls to feel left out. Then I realized that it is OK to have closer friends as long as you are not being exclusive to the other girls and that you also spend time with the whole cabin group. 

Jackie and I were super impressed with the maturity of this group and are excited to have them back on staff for 2024! They have a profound love for camp and truly want to create a special experience for their campers, both in the cabin and in activities. They have already identified things they will do differently this summer based on their experience this past summer. The fact that they are taking their growth opportunities from 2023 in order to make future improvements speaks volumes! Without question they will be good mentors for the group of counselors making the transition from being a camper to a first year staff member in just a few months. We know that Nat, Cuau, Isabella, Anna, Maya, and Tess will leave their own AMAZING footprint on the “Open New Doors in ’24” summer ahead and can’t wait to have them as counselors!