For all my avid readers, I apologize for not giving you a heads up as I took off last week. I took my vacation time to travel home and work at a summer camp I have been working at for a while now. In honor of a great and exhausting week, this post will be on the the casual side of living at Amherst College, “Camp Amherst.”
Camp (my cabin last summer)
Amherst (my floor the year before last)
This has been the first summer I have spent on campus, but previously I have been here over Thanksgiving break, January interterm, and parts of spring break. The academic year can become a grind here at Amherst, so the times when academic priorities fade become a nice reprise. As one would expect, school at Amherst is a bit different than a summer camp. Camps are often so great because they provide a retreat from the real world. Names change, people unplug from electronics, and divisions often disappear. At Amherst, people are preparing for the “real world” beyond college where they will look for jobs, address social issues. Still, people leave behind their families and communities for stretches to take the time to learn and grow. The goals are different, but some parallels can be fun.
What is it that makes camps great?
Summer wildlife (the bird) and a friend (the guy)
First is the people. Most camps have some ending song about looking back nostalgically on friendships. As covered in my previous posts and by other bloggers, the people at Amherst often top the list of what people appreciate about the school. I spent my previous post reflecting on the way the relationships forming at college feel different than other places because people come from across the world to attend school for four years. At camp, even though you know it is impossible, you hold onto hope that will see (almost) everyone the next year.
Camps are also structured to make the most out of the time you are with people. You play name games, live in a cabin together, perform skits and other bonding activities. This takes place at college too. Especially during the first year, Reslife and student affairs make a concerted effort to build community in the halls and create space for fun.
Someone else cooks most meals for you, you eat in a communal setting. Someone else who does not necessarily know you plans your meals and you have to adjust your schedule a bit. What's nice about the Valentine Dining hall is that there is a lot of flexibilty to use the ingredients available to create your own dishes at the stir fry stations.
Bodily functions and routine
Changing routine and communal living both make one more aware of one’s bodily functions. Waking, going to bed, snoring, sleepwalking, going to the bathroom all change. Diets change, and it takes some adjusting to get into a stable order. People talk about the freshman 15 when they head off to college, which I do not think is much of an issue here at Amherst. I do know that it took me and other people I am friends with timing to get our eating and relieving habits into a stable place. At summer camp, the counselors make a consistent effort to normalize bodily functions. With more communal living at college, this happens also.
Pranks on campers
Something I always appreciate about going to camps or camping, is the darkness that comes at light. The stars come in clearly, and sleeping becomes a lot easier. Amherst’s campus stays well lit at night even though the surrounding area is darker. If I had to chose one thing that has disappointed me about coming to Amherst, it has been that the stars aren’t as clear as one would expect. There is a decent amount of nighttime fog that settles in, and there is enough light from Umass and Northampton to disrupt the darkness. For walking around campus it is nice. For star gazing, you have to go to the outskirts of campus and find a place that faces away from light sources on a clear night.
An incredibly rare albino redwood tree
At camp, homesickness can derail the week for some kids. Moving away to college like all students at Amherst do can be tough as well. People worry most about getting along with their roommate, fitting in with the social scene, adjusting to the environment, and being away from family for months at a time. Each student experiences these differently, but there are similar places people can go to for help. My work as a Resident Counselor in a first year dorm has been somewhat similar to that of a camp counselor. My job was to look out for the first students and talk to them about issues that come up. The RCs are also tasked with building community on the floors and making sure they have strong enough relationships with all their residents so that they can be a resource when they notice problems.
While the RCs can handle many issues, part of our training connects us with the network of other resources where we can direct students for assistance. The counseling center is one of the best utilized resources on campus, and they have some great staff who can help students sort through a variety of challenges. Students will often schedule one or two appointments to help sort through respond to a something that has arisen. The resources centers in the campus center are also great place to find support and community around different identities. The multicultural resource center, queer resource center, women’s and gender center, and office of international student engagement all provide space and programing for students to find community, and better understand the experiences of Amherst students, including themselves.
There are times where the fun of being away at college makes it feel like a summer camp in a great way. Other times, being away can make people long for returning to their own beds at home. In either case, the people at Amherst help students find their way through their experience to grow and become more comfortable as time goes on.