Not a Happy Camper. Summer Camps.

It’s that time of year again. The time where I sell my soul to the devil (summer camps that teach English) so I can afford to survive until my next pay cheque in late October or early November. It’s not an easy job, but someone has got to do it. I usually approach it with a sense of dread as it requires me to be superextroverted for long hours every day, and my total relaxed Spanish attitude to life clashes with the high maintenance ideas from people who are not used to dealing with Spain. Trying to look on the bright side, it gives me money to travel, and it usually takes me to places that I otherwise might not have ever visited.

My first summer working as a camp monitor was in 2010. I won’t name any names of companies here, but this is for a well-known disorganized camp where things fly at you last minute, and the lack of communication and understanding between the headquarters hundreds of kilometres away and the actual camp taking place adds to more stress. All of this happens behind the scenes as the staff is trying to put on a successful camp.

This camp took me to the village of Daimiel in Ciudad Real. What who where what huh? There are the Tablas de Daimiel somewhere close to this place, but I think even Quijote himself must have looked at this town and actually saw it for the middle of nowhere nothingness it was. There weren’t even any forests or anything. Just fields, sun and temperatures well over 40ºC (104ºF). This was also the camp where there was no safe water to drink and they refused to give us money for bottled water. The teens had a very low level of English (normal), so it added to the pressure as we were not supposed to communicate in Spanish whatsoever. This did not happen.

The best part of this camp was being located in “España Profunda”. The seven monitors made fast friends dealing with all the “interesting things” thrown at us, including an owner of the property that did not want teens there in the first place. It was an old boarding school at the end of town. It gave us a sense of what Spain must have been like 50, 100, 500 years ago. It was another world.

Whenever someone asks me “Where were you when Spain won the World Cup?” I have to say “Working at a camp in Daimiel in Ciudad Real with a bunch of teens who went crazy when Spain won.” It was an awesome moment of Spanish history and a night I’ll never forget. We let the teens party a little bit longer that night, and it was a tough task getting them to bed.

During these camps, any time for siesta is well appreciated. Usually, the monitors have to watch to make sure none of them kill each other. There was a high amount of drama, and everyone was quite thankful to board the bus back to Madrid.

The next year, I was invited back in a higher capacity after surviving that experience for a full month. This time, I was sent to Jerez de la Frontera in Cádiz, Spain, for a month. The idea was to have “mini camps” where none of the students were allowed to see each other. It did not work. Running the mini-camp was madness, and we got permission to throw it out the second week. I do not recommend working a full month at a camp as there is only so much you can take of salty chips and teens fighting and sneaking out and sneaking in alcohol. And this year, there was no World Cup to keep their minds occupied. I actually lost it and had a breakdown the last week, mainly to the counselors, not the teens. The site was brand new and had never been used as a camp, and we ended up having a cook fired. Healthier dinners! The vegetarian had to make a ER run as she was starving.

I was never so glad to be on a 9-hour bus ride back to Madrid.

But the beauty of that camp was being in Jerez, which will eventually be written about whenever I get around to Cádiz. Yes, I did get free samples of sherry. And free golf lessons from taking the children to golf lessons every day. Golf is boring.

After the horrors of that camp, you’d think there was no way I’d sign on for a third year of this madness. I needed the money. And you can imagine my happiness to find out that I was headed back to JEREZ to the same campus. Everything had changed. The fellow monitors were friendly and not backstabbing drug addicts. Imagine it! The camp was relaxed and fun, and I am glad to have ended that place on a high note. I was invited back a fourth year, but they conveniently forgot to mention that I couldn’t work with them again due to having the type of visa I have, despite never causing them a problem in the past!

I’ve worked at two other camps, one with my former school. It was a padel (some Spanish sport played with rackets and tennis balls but is not tennis, squash, racquetball, or anything like that) camp, and I got to spend three hours a day playing games with them in English, taking them to order from the English ice cream shop and going with them to the beach. That camp began with the 2012 Eurocup win, and it was probably the most fun I have had at a camp as I knew the students. (The food was terrible though.)

Last year, I worked at a day camp in Madrid that I planned entirely by myself and ran entirely by myself. The kids were horrible, and by the end of the month, I was quite ready to go insane. 9-2 is a very long time with no support and having to keep children occupied without being able to say a single word in English.

The thing is, although the camps seem like hell at the time, looking back, I only remember the good parts. That doesn’t make me NOT dread the camp I’m working at this year. It should be completely different as I will be a teacher-only, not monitor, which is more my speed. I know what to expect. Chaotic fun and punishment for having bothered to learn Spanish.

As long as it isn’t a repeat of 2011, I think I’m ready for it. However, due to the business, I’ve had to cut back on writing to once a week. The horror! I’m actually writing this before the camp and scheduling it to be published while at camp. I should be able to explore the Set Meravelles of Zaragoza much better afterward!

See you in August in (spoiler alert) Zaragoza, Valencia and a look at Spanish Festivals!


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