Spending time abroad can enrich your studies, broaden your cultural horizons and help you develop key skills valued by employers. We spoke to BA (Hons) Primary Education student, Gabby Tooze, who knew before she even started at the University that she wanted to travel during her degree and was pleased to find that the HELS Go Abroad international mobility programme for undergraduate students could support her to do just that!
“I was 16 when I first heard about Camp America from my Head of Year. I decided right then that I wanted to do it one day; I really wanted to go abroad and have that experience. Initially I thought wanted to do it at the end of my degree course but I after talking to my personal tutor at the University I changed my mind as I didn’t want to risk missing graduation in the summer!
“I decided to go to Camp America’s recruitment fair which is held every January in London. I could have applied through the website but doing it face-to-face is much quicker. I’d researched the different camps on offer before I went as there as so many – girl scouts, single gender camps, camps for disabled children, religious camps etc. Once you get there, you go through a process of preparation for interviews and then you go into the fair where you can find the camps you’re interested in and get interviews. 80 per cent of people who go to the fair get placed on the day so it’s definitely worth doing.
“Camp America isn’t free so I applied through the University’s Go Abroad scheme to see if I could get a bursary to help with some of the costs. I completed my application form and went to an interview and luckily got some funding which covered 40% of my costs so that made it much more do-able.
“When I went to the recruitment fair I hadn’t been on my first teaching placement as yet, so I’m not going to lie – I was pretty nervous about both of these things. However, my first year placement really built my confidence and I also had more experience of after school activities, so, by the time it came to the summer, I was excited rather than scared to fly off to the States!
“I experienced a lot and learnt so much while doing Camp America. I was at the camp in the Santa Cruz Mountains in California for ten weeks in total, the first week of which was staff training. The camp was for five to 16 year-olds and took both publicly-funded day campers and private fee-paying children who stayed overnight. I had a week of staff training when I got there and was able to work with the full range of children. Every day was different and threw new scenarios at you, so I learnt very quickly how to deal positively with negative behaviours and situations and it certainly improved my ability to be calm and patient! I also definitely improved my behaviour management skills and now know even more ways to get children’s attention in quick, fun ways!
“There were so many different activities at camp. I specialised in photography but I also got to take part in activities such as high ropes, archery, and arts and crafts. The average day involved a lot of camp songs (which helps you pick them up quickly) and each week there was a campfire with singing, dancing and acting.
“Having both private resident campers and more local children who were funded to come during the daytime made the camp more diverse. I learnt to be able to gauge the children. My course had taught me that there’s always a reason for a child’s negative behaviour and you saw that at camp, particularly when you met the parents of the day children. It helped me to understand them more and develop a stronger relationship with them. From there I could work with them more effectively and you could really see them develop over their time at the camp, which was really rewarding.
“It wasn’t just the children that I really got to know – I also got to know the camp leaders (who were ultimately in charge) who were really supportive, caring and fun. I had a really good relationship with one of the camp leaders and she would show us around to cute spots and nice local cafes during our time off. There were also volunteers, like me, at my camp who were from all over the world. We actually did an activity on the ball field during the staff where we had to work out where to place ourselves on an imaginary giant world map in relation to where we live. The camp manager actually told us it was the first year that the summer camp staff had been so diverse. There were people from around America, Brazil, New Zealand, Australia, England, Scotland, and Ireland.
We were free at the weekends so we were able to go to really cool places like San Francisco, to a water park in San Jose, to an aquarium in Monterey, and to Santa Cruz Boardwalk and beach. After camp was over, I was also luck enough to travel around America for a month, visiting Los Angeles, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, New York and Florida.
“Looking back on Camp America now, I think I learnt a lot of social skills from having to work in such an intense, social environment. It was overwhelming at first but once I got used to it, I just loved being around people all of the time and it had such a positive impact on my mood. I made amazing friendships with people all over the world who I have stayed in touch with, and those of us from the UK all stay in touch and make the effort to visit each other as often as possible. From a teaching point of view, my first-year placements gave me confidence but Camp America has taken it to another level so I’m looking forward to putting some of the things I’ve learnt at the camp into practice when I’m teaching my new classes.”
Want to travel as part of your studies?
HELS Go Abroad can support you with a scholarship towards various international opportunities during the course of your studies.