A few recent conversations with camper and potential camper families got me thinking about an important concept at camp, and how we address it says a lot about what MTC is all about.
It’s the idea of comfort, and how a camper’s experience of comfort while at camp is a useful way of framing their summer.
When a camper first arrives at camp, especially those who don’t know any one else at camp, it is natural and expected that they are going to feel quite uncomfortable and uncertain. Our immediate job is to work on the aspects creating that uncertainty and remove them as quickly and fully as possible.
We spend a lot of time in the first 3 days of camp getting to know each other, getting to know the camp facility, getting to know the activities, and getting to know where and when we are meant to be at the different times of day – easing the uncomfortable. It’s always so much easier to feel comfortable and self-assured when you know where you are sleeping (and that’s there no spiders in your bunk); when dinner is; who your bunk mates are and where they are from; and where you are showering (and that there’s no spiders in the shower stall)!
Once a camper can feel confident in knowing the where and when part of camp, they are hopefully relaxed enough to start going beyond the basics of getting to know their cabin mates. Instead of just knowing someone’s name and where they live, campers spending time together start learning about each other’s background, their goals for the summer, what they are nervous about, and so on. Acquaintances soon become fast friends. Combine these friendships with the campers growing understanding of the entire camp culture – knowing and trusting staff; recognizing the importance placed on personal and social safety; the acceptance of individuality – and campers start to feel confident and significantly more comfortable.
So why do we want to make them uncomfortable all over again?
There is enough variety and depth of instruction in camp activities that there are multiple opportunities for everyone to do something that they just aren’t very good, or very experienced at. Of course, when we try to learn a new skill, or put ourselves in a new situation for the first time, it can be deeply uncomfortable. Getting up on stage with a guitar in your hand. Trying a new style of dance. Jumping off a zipline platform 40’ in the air. Using fire and hammers to create art. Jumping high in the air with a wakeboard strapped to your feet. Swimming across a lake further from shore than you’ve ever been. There are two courses of action available to address this discomfort. Avoid the situation entirely, which leads to no new learning, no discovery of new capabilities. Alternatively, we can work to overcome the discomfort. That work will usually involve some instruction or guidance from trusted teachers or supervisors; it will probably involve practice, and probably some frustration or fear; and it will involve discovery of new or expanded capabilities.
And then, just like that, the discomfort fades again. The experience that previously caused anxiety or stress is now just another “thing I can do”. The best part is that it doesn’t end there. Because now there is a new thing that will make you uncomfortable. You played guitar in public? How about playing a song you wrote? Now how about recording that song and sharing it with the wider world? The uncomfortable, just keeps building the confidence.
Camp is a place to grow. But it doesn’t happen all by itself, all at once, or without effort. Camp can’t do it for a camper. Only the camper can choose to put themselves through a challenging, uncomfortable experience. Our job is to help them choose that challenge. Choosing MTC is a first step. Going to a place you don’t know anyone else is not an easy choice to make, and not a choice that every teenager is capable of making. But for those who do, it’s a big first step to truly discovering some of the other remarkable things that they are capable of doing.