Every summer since I was 16 years old I’ve worked at an outdoor education centre and summer camp just outside my hometown, Edmonton.
From April to August every year, I go by the name Paprika. Paprika is my camp name – my alter ego.
Paprika is a motivator at the zip line, an expert on nature facts and the world’s fastest (and loudest) singer of the song Little Piece of Tin.
She’s the finder of lost water bottles, soother of homesick children and the national knee tag champion.
Being Paprika is also the best job experience I have on my resumé.
That’s not saying I have an empty resumé. I have worked a lot of jobs in my field during my last four years at university. However, my summer job is not one of them, and I’m completely OK with that.
At university, there is intense pressure to find a summer internship, even if it pays next to nothing or requires you to do the work nobody else wants to do.
Get an internship, rub shoulders, get hired after graduation. Career, career, career.
Now, I’m not saying to not do that. Networking is amazing. But coming back in September, I always hear at least a few people say something along the lines of, “It’s not what I want to do,” or “I really didn’t like it there.” And it’s always followed by, “But it looks good on my resumé, I guess.”
This astounds me. As students, we have a four-month blank space in our lives that we can spend however we want to and still have the security that life will go back to normal when classes resume in September. That kind of thing doesn’t happen out there in the “real world.”
We should be making the most out of our summers by travelling, following a passion or learning something totally new.
Eight months out of the year are spent inside the classroom, poring over textbooks and essays with thesis statements that we have long forgotten.
The remaining four mouths should be spent in self-discovery – learning about yourself and doing what you want to do.
Because let’s be honest, you’re not going to remember the summer you spent waitressing at Jack Astor’s.
Skills and experiences learned outside of your field of study can be just as relevant as the ones learned in school and during internships.
In my case, the closest working at a summer camp comes to my journalism degree is writing the short weekly newsletter and coming up with funny hashtags for the camp’s Facebook page.
However, when I have to sit down with a group of kids who just can’t seem to get along, I get experience in conflict resolution.
Each time a thunderstorm has rolled in and forced all activities to stop, I’ve learned how to manage a last-minute crisis and smoothly change plans.
I’ve learned to work well with others and check problems at the door. You have to if you live in close quarters with 40 other people for months at a time.
But more than that, I’ve enjoyed myself. I’ve spent my summers doing something I absolutely love.
I’ve been able to learn new things about myself, make incredible memories and do something that I likely won’t be able to do once I pursue a career in my field.
When I excitedly tell people about working at camp, I often hear the reply, “Wow, I wish I could do something like that.”
This response baffles me, because they just have to follow that idea and try something new.
Whether it’s hopping on an airplane or taking a job they wish they had, it’s completely attainable if they take the chance and do something out of their comfort zone.
Just the other day, one of my co-workers messaged me asking me if I was returning to camp this year, which I am.
She was a camper in my first few years as a staff member, and she has now joined the team. She offhandedly mentioned a memory she had as a camper five years ago, one that I had completely forgotten about. Then she said how she looked for me every year as soon as she arrived for her week at camp.
This struck me. I was never her counsellor. I was just another staff member. I interacted with her during camp-wide activities a couple of times and I remember telling her she would make a great counsellor. Four years later, she became one.
About 1,000 kids come to the camp I work at every summer. I thought about all of the kids I may have had a positive impact on, whether I knew it or not at the time.
I’ve helped kids climb one rock higher on the climbing wall, encouraged them to step up and be a leader and allowed them to be who they are outside of their “normal lives.”
These may have been minor things in my life, but these moments can have such a big impact on theirs. Knowing that gives me a feeling no internship or office job ever could.
This summer, I will be heading back for my seventh summer working at the camp.Unfortunately, it will also be my last, as I’ll be starting a year-long graduate school program in the fall.
I am endlessly happy that I decided to spend my university summers at the camp, and I know that it helped prepare me for the scary post-graduation world.
I’ll cherish the skills I’ve learned at the camp and bring the lessons I’ve learned to every job I will hold in the future.
And I’ll always respond to the name Paprika.