MaptheGap.co.uk interviews Tace Bleasby about her gap year experiences with BUNAC, working at Summer Camp USA.
First things first, money is an issue for a lot of people going on a gap year - how did you fund your experience?
The great thing about going on the Summer Camp USA programme with BUNAC is that you get paid! Of the nine-plus weeks you spend in the States you’re making money all the time you’re at camp and since I was 21 the first time I went to camp, I was in the higher salary bracket (under 21s get paid at least $900, over 21s make at least $1100) and actually earned higher than those base rates. I also got a $100 bonus because I was a university graduate and in the following years I did First Aid and Lifeguard courses, paid for by camp, and got the same bonus for each of those too. While qualifications are not a requirement, many camps do reward applicants with monetary bonuses so the more skilled you are, the better position you are in to add to your salary right away.
Another way of making a little extra green is by going to camp a bit earlier and getting your hands dirty. Many camps do ‘pre-camp’ for returning counsellors where, for a week, you’ll be helping out with general camp maintenance- painting, raking, mowing, a bit more raking- to get it into working order after the winter. This tends to be more of a fixed rate per day.
During your time at camp you’ll have all your food and accommodation provided so you’ll only be spending a very small amount while you’re at camp, meaning that when the time for travelling comes around you’ll probably have saved a nice little amount without realising it!
How did you set about planning for your gap year?
All first timers on the programme get booked onto a group flight that BUNAC takes care of and the price is included in the programme fee. Not only does it take away the hassle and cost of booking your own flight, it means that you fly over with a bunch of other summer camp-ers, it’s a great way- and an amazing place- to begin your American adventure!
My first year at summer camp was my first venture into travelling which was why camp was such a great option; it gives you a nice little cushion of letting you live and work in another country but with the security of going over with a prearranged job, accommodation, food and it’s great know you’ll make friends easily because at a summer camp everyone’s there to make friends. And then you can travel afterwards, with friends you’ve made that summer.
Being travel though, plans inevitably change, what did you end up doing that was different from what you expected?
No one heads out there with definite travel plans, or if they do, they’re likely to change many times over the summer as you meet new friends and talk to them about their plans, so when booking your flight home it’s more of a ball-park figure than a specific date.
From having no travel plans at all at the beginning of camp, I found myself with a month packed with city-breaks, tours and day-trips by the time I was leaving, all intermingled with dropping in on and meeting up with friends along the way. Whale watching in Seattle and finding ‘gators in the Everglades, taking in the Grand Canyon, cycling around Santa Monica and just experiencing New Orleans- quite the experience!- are just a few of the amazing things I’ve done on my post-camp travels.
What was the best experience you had on your gap year?
Like most things, it isn’t what you do or where you go but the people you meet who make travel great, and summer camp is the epitome of this. Closer friendships are formed in the nine weeks you spend at summer camp than in any other situation you’re likely to find yourself in; it’s a sort of accelerated, but very real, friendship.
What advice would you give to someone planning their gap year now?
Don’t hesitate in booking- you’ll never have a more assured travel opportunity. The cost for the whole programme is less than a return flight to the States, you’ll have a guaranteed job doing something you love, a home (in a BEAUTIFUL location), food and friends, and plenty of time for travel afterwards; what more could you want? There is nothing dull or boring about summer camp, every day is different and the weather definitely beats the UK! I can’t wait to go back!
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