In Which I Spend 8 Weeks in the Woods (of NH working at a therapeutic camp)
Well, blogs! It’s been a long summer of being away from you all, and I’m glad to be back! Transitioning back into the world of internet and social media after 8 weeks in the woods of New Hampshire has been jarring, strange, consuming, and comforting all at once, but what better way is there to return to my Oberlin life than by writing a blog post? It’s time for an update about what I did this summer and what’s up next for me this semester.
This past summer after a rejuvenating 5 weeks at home in Albuquerque, NM where I spent time relaxing with family, reading books, climbing walls a few times a week, watching German TV and movies, and acquainting myself with my family’s labradoodle puppy Earnest, I made my way to the bustling metropolis of Windsor, New Hampshire (pop: ~250) to work at Camp Wediko.
Camp Wediko is a 45-day therapeutic summer camp program for children ages 8-19 with behavioral, social, and emotional challenges. I wanted to gain exposure working in the mental health field, and my advisor Nancy Darling suggested I work there. Wediko is a haven of social workers, educators, and therapists, and is extremely unique in that it provides undergraduates and emerging mental health professionals with the opportunity to work directly with a clinical population without licensure or other accreditation processes. So, back in January of this year, I applied, got selected for an interview, and eventually was offered a position, which I happily accepted! In the end of June I flew to Manchester and found myself working in the beautiful natural setting that is Wediko. After a rigorous 8-day orientation, which was by far the most challenging job training I’ve ever gone through, the kids arrived. I was placed in a cabin of eight 14-year-old girls and was placed in a Teaching Affiliate position. This means that I got to be a part of Think City, which is the school-ish portion of the summer program. Four days I week I taught three 90-minute classes to children of each developmental level, late elementary, middle school, and high school age kids. All the classes were based on project-based learning, and each week had a theme, from Kitchen Science to Poetry. When I wasn’t teaching, lesson-planning, or in supervision meetings with the rest of my teaching staff, I got to spend time with my cabin group, participating in fun traditional camp activities like kayaking, art, archery, and swimming, and was with the group in the evenings for special evening activities like Performance Nights or basketball tournaments. Camp was full of both challenges and fun—and as one of my mentors said, “fun drives growth.” This could not be more true.
There is no possible way to encapsulate my time at Wediko, which another one of my mentors at camp called “a cultural experience.” It truly was. Every specific aspect of life at Wediko is completely unique to that place, and I hope to go back someday and work there again, just to be in that incredibly unique and stimulating environment. My transition back to Oberlin was quick. I woke up at 5:30 AM on Sunday morning, got on a bus to Boston with all the kids who were leaving camp that day to return home to their families, went directly to the airport and flew back to Oberlin. Monday morning, I started PAL training. It was a quick turnaround. Leaving camp on the same day as the kids meant I missed reorientation, a period of debriefing, community projects, and reclamation of self-care with the Wediko staff. Missing reorientation has meant that I have missed out on valuable time to process my Wediko journey and to reconnect with peers I spent my summer working alongside, albeit sometimes without much time to check in due to the all-consuming 16-hour days we worked with our campers. My transition to Oberlin felt jarring at first, but also surprisingly like flipping a switch. There is nothing like being out of your comfort zone all summer to feel comfortable in Oberlin. Coming here and being back feels so normal, which is really nice, but it also feels like it all happened a little too fast. I remember feeling a very particular way when I first went back home during the fall break of my first semester at Oberlin. It felt like I had experienced so much, and that I had this cool, amazing new life and had grown in so many ways, but that there was no way anyone in my life in New Mexico could understand what it was like, and also that there was no way to help them truly understand. It was like a secret new life completely outside of everyone I knew. That is how it feels returning to Oberlin after Wediko. No one can understand except those who have worked there, which is why my mentor calling it a “cultural experience” is so on-the-nose. That is also why there is no way I can truly articulate my experience, except by maybe sharing 8 weeks worth of nightly journal entries, which is certainly beyond the scope of this blog post.
And yes, I have grown. Through all the ups and downs of working a summer at Wediko, by far the hardest job I have ever worked, I grew and changed. At the end of last semester, I felt stagnant, which was really frustrating. I knew that there were things I wanted and needed to change, but I didn’t know how to do that. Working at Wediko was the catalyst I needed to start work on myself. And even though the job was more about working with the kids than on myself, I’d be lying if I said self-improvement and growth was not a reason I decided to work there. I think I emerged from Wediko a more assertive, patient, and resilient person. There are attributes I want to continue to develop, which is one of many reasons I hope to return to Wediko in the future. I can’t predict where life will take me, and if I’ll end up back at this incredibly special place, but I know that working at Wediko was one of the most challenging, fun, and transformative things I’ve ever done. I feel as though, at least for now, my life is measured by pre-Wediko and post-Wediko. That’s a pretty defining thing.
So, what’s next? For the past few days (though it feels like at least a week), I’ve been in training for my second year as a PAL, or Peer Advising Leader. This means I will be assigned a group of first-year students to work with during orientation and throughout the first semester, who I will help adjust academically and socially to life at Oberlin. It’s possible that experiences at Oberlin like Girls in Motion and being a PAL could have helped me get offered a position at Wediko, since they demonstrate my experience mentoring, teaching, and working with others. On the flip side, my experience at Wediko will undoubtedly make me a better PAL than I was last year. Despite many moments of doubt throughout my summer, I am sure that I am more confident, more nurturing, and a better listener than I was before I worked at Wediko. During a PAL workshop I was surprised at how comfortable I felt sharing ideas in a large group, and practicing facilitating and introducing discussions and activities, which, surprise surprise, I did all summer with my campers. I can’t wait to apply everything I learned this summer to every type of work I do at Oberlin, and in every community I’m a part of, from my PAL group to my co-op and the class I’m going to be a TA for (Methods I, look out for me!).
I feel transformed. Never have I been less anxious and more present than I was at Wediko. This has to do with the nature of the job, and leaving camp I definitely had a lot of anxieties about regressing and falling into old patterns that make me unhappy or stressed at school. These past few days have not been long enough to indicate if changes from this summer will be lasting or not, but I know that I have the determination to make them so, and that determination and resolve come from working the most challenging yet most rewarding job of my entire life up until this point.
I want to end this blog post with three mantras I really tried to internalize this summer, for myself, and also for anyone reading this blog (especially my incoming first-years). Here they are:
Work harder, not smarter
It’s not a problem until it’s a problem
And, my personal favorite:
TRUST THE PROCESS