How to Survive Camp Counselor Training

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Going to camp for the first time can be a daunting prospect for many of us, especially if (like it was for me) this is the first time you have travelled away from home on your own. You try and picture in your head what camp will look like, what to expect when you arrive or what you will spend your first few days doing. Although every camp is different, the majority of camps begin their summer with a week or so of staff training – and this is where the fun begins…

My first piece of advice would be to prepare yourself for anything. Actually no, scrap that, my first piece of advice would be to get as many hours of sleep as you can prior to your arrival, and THEN prepare yourself for anything. The first year I arrived at camp, I was picked up from the bus station and driven for 30 minutes into what seemed like the middle of nowhere (maybe watching the Haunting in Connecticut before I left wasn’t such a great idea after all!). Within an hour of arriving at camp, I was rolling around at the Waterfront in my swimming costume with a bunch of other Counselors trying (and failing) to inflate a HUGE water trampoline with a leaf blower. If only someone had a camera…

Like I said, prepare yourself for ANYTHING!

After your arrival at camp, you will usually move into a cabin (as glamorous as it gets in the summer camp world, I’m afraid!) with other Counselors for the duration of staff training – basically think of it as week-long sleepover! This is a great time to suss other Counselors out, start making friends and find out who has the best day-off outfits for you to borrow during the summer (essential!). My second piece of advice, as cliché as it sounds, is to be yourself during staff training. If you put on an act during this time, you will have a looooooong eight weeks ahead of you trying to keep it up. Camp is literally FULL of people who are different – from different backgrounds, cultures and religions – and people will love you for who you are, regardless of who that person is! Make the most of living with adults before the campers arrive and the work REALLY starts.

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The first couple of days of staff training are usually filled with lots of paperwork (yawn, but sadly essential) and talks from various people about the ins-and-outs of camp life. Have you ever heard the term ‘flooding your brain’s engine?’. Well, give it a couple of months and you will all know EXACTLY what I mean! You will experience serious OVERLOAD. There is so much to take in and learn; the expectations, the rules, the procedures, the schedule. You will be given information on health and safety, how to deal with homesick campers, what to do in bad weather… the list is endless! Although it may not feel like it at first, you will be well and truly prepared by the time the campers arrive. My third piece of advice is to always ASK if you are at all unsure, especially during this time before the kids arrive. Ask returning staff (they secretly love it when they are able to help a newbie out!), ask your admin team or even ask each other – I guarantee you will never be alone (literally – not even in the shower!).

Team-building activities are also a HUGE part of staff training. Name games are often really popular; remembering someone’s name can be tricky but as soon as they put a dance move with it then BANG – you can suddenly remember it! It’s important that the staff all click and work well together, as you will find yourself working as a team throughout the whole summer, so expect to find yourself involved in a human knot at some point during staff training (nothing says teamwork more than having someone’s sweaty armpit in your face when you are well and truly in a tangle).

You will have time during staff training to check out your activity, find out what equipment is available to you and to start planning sessions ready for the camper’s arrival. Camps often have manuals/diaries of what has happened at that activity in previous years, which can be helpful to give you some ideas if there is no returning Counselor at your activity, but (and here comes my fourth piece of advice!) try and plan ahead and bring some fresh, new ideas to camp with you. Many campers return to camp year after year, and they LOVE it when they arrive at an activity to find out they are not just repeating the same things they have done in previous years. Last year I was the Mountain Bike Counselor, and I invented a game called Bike Polo (like the thing they do on horses, only on bikes instead!). The campers were armed with (plastic) hockey sticks, and the aim of the game was to hit a large sponge volleyball through a ‘goal’ (a.k.a. two plastic cones). The kids LOVED it, but mostly because it was something new for them to do when they came to Mountain Bikes.

Staff training is also a great time to try out other activities on camp. I personally couldn’t wait to jump in the lake and test out that water trampoline we had all sweated over on my first day but for some, it’s a chance to get up the climbing wall, race around on the go-karts or pretend to be Robin Hood down in the Archery zone. Make the most of it – your days are SO busy once the campers arrive, you often don’t get many other chances.

You will learn new songs, start new friendships, find yourself dressed in strange outfits you would never wear in the real world and begin to realise what a CRAZY summer you have ahead of you. Staff training can be fun, stressful, hectic, EXHAUSTING, but it is what you make it. Get involved, be yourself, ask questions and don’t be afraid to share your ideas.

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Guest Blog: Tom Perilli (Part Two).

‘Traveling leaves you speechless, and then turns you into a storyteller.’ – Ibn Battuta.

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Writing tip from a writing amateur: always include a thought provoking quote to begin with, it makes you seem more profound than you actually are. Ibn Battuta could be a pro-wrestler for all I know but nevertheless, the accuracy of the above quote can obviously only be acknowledged by those who have managed to step outside their comfort zone and attempt a journey. God knows I’ll find myself retelling a camp-story (or any other travelling story) to any unfortunate person who just happens to be present when I am suddenly reminded of an interesting anecdote. Truth is that majority of the time the purpose of the story isn’t to entertain the person I’m telling it to, nor is it to prove you’re better in any way, shape or form. I believe sincerely that the purpose of the story is to allow the storyteller an opportunity to briefly recapture the feeling that memory entails.

Okay I lied a little, I’m sure ‘Water-Ski Instructor in America’ has been dropped into a few conversations just to impress certain people – I mean, I did say ‘majority’ of the time!

I remember feeling really frustrated after returning from my first year at summer camp. Literally every story I could have told were littered with ‘you-had-to-be-there’ moments. Every inside joke or running gag had no way of translating back home. It wasn’t until after my second year at summer camp that I realized that’s what makes camp special – the fact that these moments cannot be expressed to others who didn’t experience them first-hand, which consequently allows them to become internalized.

That is when they become yours and yours only.

As awesome as it is to return home and recount wondrous stories to your friends and family, in some instances it can cheapen the whole experience. This isn’t just relevant to summer-camp, but travelling in general. Travelling gathers these moments, some that might even seem insignificant at the time, and allows you spread them out over a lifetime, shedding a little light here and there.

All that being said, there should be absolutely no reason to apologise for showing off. That’s pretty much the reward or the pay-out for investing in a journey. Being able to come home and flaunt your new-found skills, for example unclogging toilets, because you’ve spent the last 3 months in a cabin full of boys whose diet mostly consists of frosted flakes, bacon and mac n’ cheese (you’ll soon have a greater appreciation for plungers, trust me), which brings me to my next point (in a weird sort of way).

Summer camp is made up of so many components that, as an employee, you are bound to tom.jpgobtain more skills than you bargained for. Regardless of whether you enjoy the experience or not, you’re coming away with at least a few practical, or even life, skills. I probably wasn’t the most experienced at handling a home-sick child before I arrived at camp – I mean, I never really needed to be. I learnt very quickly that even asking about home, or what they missed about home, was a very bad idea. Distraction was key. More questions regarding how their day was, or what activities they’ve participated in, steer the conversation away from what is actually upsetting them. Other skills that I obtained were a little more obscure and probably only camp-related, such as assisting the build of a full-scale pirate ship, assisting the build of a full-scale Viking ship or choreographing a ski-show. If only the demand for pirate and Viking ships were greater.

All these skills and lessons very much come in handy later on in life, and it is essential to write them down or even just make a mental note of them. You never know when a potential employer might be looking for someone that has an extensive background looking after children on a daily basis, or even someone who knows Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off’ off by heart. They’re both as important as each other as far as I can tell.

Essentially what I’m saying with all this is don’t let it be just the physical things you pay for when organizing your trip (flights, visas, hotel etc.), remember the intangible aspects as well: the distinct stories you can bore all your family and friends to death with; the skills and abilities gained from the day to day lifestyle of camp (yes, even unclogging toilets); a new perception to life around you.

Be completely prepared after returning from your trip to compare all the traits from your home-life to that of your journey. This will either allow you to appreciate what you’ve got at home, if the experience was less than desirable, or if it was nothing but positive learn to improve what you’ve already got.

Anyway go to camp, that point is still the same.

Peace&Love
Tom.

Pre-Camp To Do List

Summer camp 2017 is fast approaching, with the majority of us now in double digits until we jet off to spend three months in the USA. I’m off to camp super early this year, and with only 42 more days until I leave, I thought I would share with you all a few of the things on my to-do list in preparation for the summer. Some of them are very menial, adult (a.k.a ‘boring’) tasks, so I apologise if this is a dreary post in advance, but they are all essential things to do before you leave.

1. Go to the dentist. 

Wow, what a way to start! I have NEVER met anyone yet who likes going to the dentist so why, I hear you ask, is this top of my list? Well. If you have never been to America before, medical and dental care do not come cheap. Although we all have insurance (I hope – if you are at ALL unsure, add this to your to-do list right now!), the excess is still rarely cheap and a £20 check up now could save you a lot of pain (literally) in the near future. laugh.gif

To make this point slightly better, here is a dentist-related joke for you all (sorry in
advance):

Q: What did the dentist say to the golfer?

A: “You have a hole in one. ”

2. Take a trip to the doctors. 

Thank the lord for the NHS. Check with your camp whether you require any kind of jabs before you arrive – I remember having to get a Tetanus jab before I went to camp in my first year – and get them done here while they are FREE (kind of). In addition, stock up on any prescriptions/medication you require and remember to get enough to last you throughout the summer.

3. Book any other appointments you may require. 

For me, this included a trip to the opticians. It was time to get my eyes tested and for a contact lens check, but it also gave me the chance to stock up on contact lenses to take with me. I wear monthly lenses, but I also bought a few dailies to wear on days off at the beach – I’m scared to wear my monthlies just in case a huge wave hits me in the face and I lose one (not that I speak from experience or anything…). I also needed a new pair of glasses – being blind is EXPENSIVE!!

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4. Sort out your finances. 

While you are away for the summer, do you really need to keep paying for that Netflix membership? The gym membership you only used twice? The Spotify account? Probably not. Go through all your direct debits and cancel any that you won’t need/use over the summer.

Following on from this, make sure you do have enough money in your account to cover any bills (such as your phone bill) that you will need to continue to pay for over the summer. You don’t want to be coming home in September on a high to find overdraft charges galore on your account!

5. Make phone preparations. 

Many of us (me included) cannot live life without our phones glued to the end of our arm. Although most camps don’t allow you to use your phone in front of the campers (they are usually not allowed to even bring their phones to camp in the summer), you are able to use it in your free time and on your days off camp. For the past two years, I have used a pay-as-you-go 3 sim whilst in the U.S.A, as they offer a ‘feel at home’ deal where you can use your phone there the same as you would in England, at no extra cost. I topped the sim card up every month (like being back in the good old days when my mum used to top my Nokia 3310 up once a month), converted it to a ‘feel at home’ bundle and then I could use the internet and call home whenever I wanted to.

Other options include getting an American sim once you arrive in the USA. A few of my friends chose this option, and paid around $20-$30 per month for the privilege. Check out the deals available online before you set off to camp, and decide on the best option for you. Alternatively, you could just have some time away from your phone, use wifi in public places on your days/nights off and write letters home to the people you love.

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6. Make car arrangements.

You could have the biggest suitcase in the world (and I’m still not sure it would rival mine), but sadly you won’t be able to take your car with you to camp. If you are paying your car insurance monthly, make sure you cancel your car insurance in advance. My car insurer advised I give them four weeks notice that I wished to cancel the insurance, so make a note in your diary/calendar and give them a call in advance.

In addition, if you live in the U.K. and no-one will be driving it whilst you are gone, you may need to SORN your car. SORN stands for ‘Statutory Off Road Notification’, and basically it means you have to register your vehicle as off the road if it is not insured/taxed. You can SORN your car, or find out more information, here: https://www.gov.uk/make-a-sorn

(I promise the list gets better from here, keep reading!!)
7. ‘I need dollar, dollar, dollar is what I need…’

There are many different ways for you to take money with you to America. Sadly, the exchange rate isn’t what it used to be and you don’t get anywhere as many dollars for your hard earned money, but here are the options available:

  • Take it as cash. Exchange your money at an exchange bureau before you leave, and take the money with you. I usually take enough to get through a few days, but don’t like to take huge amounts of cash with me in case it gets lost or stolen.
  • Use your English debit/credit card to withdraw money. I used my Santander debit card to withdraw money during my first year at camp when I had gone on a bit of a mad one at the mall (influenced by my camp bestie Grace, the biggest shopaholic I have EVER met), but there were quite a lot of charges involved. For example, if I made a purchase on the card in the U.S., I was charged a non-sterling transaction fee of 2.75% of the value plus an additional fee of £1.25 for each purchase – not cheap!! Check out your bank T&Cs before you leave.
  • Use a prepaid dollar card. These cards are super handy, avoiding expensive foreign transactions fees on normal debit cards as outlined above, and they also mean you don’t have to carry around lots of cash. The card I used in 2016 was a Revolut card, which I loved and will probably use again this year! The card is paired with an app, which allows you to exchange money as and when you want (and the exchange rate always matches that of the exchange bureau), spend without fees, keep track of your expenses and much more! Also, feel free to use my referal code: eleanof55. In addition, there are many other prepaid cards available – find out more at MoneySuperMarket.

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Remember, you will also have your camp wages. Camps usually pay you wages onto some type of a prepaid card for you to use. My camp usually pays our wages in full at the end of the summer, however you can request some of it early if you wish to do so. If you are planning on relying on your wages whilst at camp, double check before you leave when it is you will get paid.

8. Shop for the essentials.

If you missed it, see my summer camp packing list for more ideas on exactly what it is you need to be buying to take to camp with you but here are a few points to REMEMBER when you are buying/packing for camp (and here’s where I should take my own advice too):

  1. You are going to live in America for the summer, not on Mars. Camps are usually in rural areas but there will be some form of Walmart/Target type shop within a few miles or so. You do not need to pack 3 months worth of shampoo or conditioner – buy it there!
  2. Most airlines only give you 23kg for your checked baggage. Fee’s can be expensive if you go overboard, so buy yourself a luggage scale if you don’t already own one, and stick to the limit!
  3. Leave some room in your suitcase for your return. If you pack your suitcase full on the way there, where are you going to put all the souvenirs you bought for your family or that 9 month supply of Lucky Charms you bought for yourself on the way back…?
  4. Some clothes are not going to return with you. They will get lost, shrunk in the camp laundry, accidentally put in a campers trunk or covered in paint. Don’t pack all of your best clothes (same goes for shoes/jewellry etc.), and make sure you have some that you are happy to leave behind with you once camp is over.

9. Hand your notice in at work (probably my favourite point!).

If you are quitting your job to spend a summer at camp (and good on you is all I can say!), then make sure you check your contract and give enough notice before you leave. If you actually like your job, and don’t want to leave, ask them nicely if you can have a three-month sabbatical from work (if you haven’t already) – and cross your fingers that they say yes!

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10. Check your University scheduele. 

If you are a student, make sure you have completed your summer exams before you leave for camp. Some universities allow you to take the exam early if necessary, so check with you tutors if you are worried about missing out on the start of the summer! The same goes for your return – make sure you book your flight home ready for the start of the new term.

So there you have it, my plans for the next 42 days.  Lots of people have been asking me for pre-camp tips on both Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/how2survivecamp/) and on Twitter (https://twitter.com/how2survivecamp), so I really hope you all find this useful! Check out my other ‘before camp‘ blog posts for more advice on preparing yourself for a summer in the States!

13 Things I Miss About Home When I’m At Camp…

So although I love being at summer camp and consider it my second ‘home’, there are certain things that I miss about being at home England during the summer. Read on to find out exactly what it is I miss, and how to survive during the summer!

1. My family.

Lets face it, at times your family can drive you BONKERS! Or is that just me?! But when  I’m away from home for so long, I really start to miss them – even if I’m busy having so much fun at camp! Campers often get homesick if they’re away from their family for long periods of time (especially the younger ones/first timers!), and it often really helps them if you can relate how they are feeling to your own feelings of missing home.

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Regular Skype sessions and a family Whatsapp group full of pointless pictures helps me survive the summer months away from them.

2. My dogs.dogs.jpg

How could I forget about man’s (or woman’s, in my case!) best friend, regardless of where I am in the world?! My dogs are as much as a part of my family as my sister (and they don’t answer back like she does!) and I miss them SO much while I am away at camp in the summer. They often like to join in the family Skype session to say a quick hello (which often really confuses them, although it doesn’t take much – they’re not the brightest bulbs on the tree!), making it a bit easier to go for months without seeing them! Picture of them on my cabin wall also is a nice reminder, plus the campers LOVE to see pictures of your pets!

3. My friends from home.

Apparently if a friendship has lasted more than 7 years, then it will last a lifetime – so it looks like my friends are well and truly stuck with me! Being away from the girls for so long is hard, and I apologise for ALWAYS missing some of your birthdays, but they keep me updated throughout the summer with all the gossip and I know they won’t have forgotten about me when I eventually find my way home!

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Just like the above, having pictures next to my bunk and regular catch ups on days off makes being away that little bit easier!

4. Friends I have met at camp, who aren’t returning to camp. 

This is one of the WORST things about being a returner at camp. You meet friends at camp one year, who sometimes can’t return the following year for whatever reason – usually because real life (jobs/internships/boyfriends/family) gets in the way! Going back to camp without them takes some getting used to, and although you make lots of new friends, you still miss the old ones SO much!

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5. English food.

Don’t get me wrong, there is some reallyyyyyyyyyyyy good American food (pizza and bagels come to mind), but there is SO much food that I miss when I am in America. Here are a few examples that come to mind:

  • Chocolate. Hershey’s isn’t even in the same LEAGUE as Cadburys! My advice to you would be to stuff any spare room in your suitcase with Cadburys (of any variety) to see you through the summer.
  • Squash/cordial. I’m still not 100% sure why this is not a thing in the U.S. – probably because it doesn’t contain enough sugar for their liking! You can get hold of flavoured water and juice such as Gatorade etc., but sadly there is no Robinsons in sight! If, like me, you’re a huge fan, buy a couple of those little squeezy bottles to take with you.
  • Chippy chips. More commonly known as a ‘Frie’ in America, its rare you will ever get any decent, fat chips around – especially not ones that come from a chippy!
  • Sunday roast ft. gravy. The Americans don’t tend to be a fan of good proper gravy that we know and love (especially if you’re Northern like me!). And you know what goes well with gravy…
  • Pie – and not of the sweet variety! You name it, any fruit you can put into a pie can be found in America – strawberry, apple, cherry, rhubarb, pumpkin… the list is endless! But can you find a good chicken pie, or even so much as a sausage roll? Can you heck! Americans don’t really do sweet pie, so get yourself to Greggs asap and go pasty crazy before you leave..

6. My car. 

I LOVE my little car. I drive a Citroen C1 (glam) called Rory, and I love the freedom that she brings to my life. If I want to nip to the shop at 11pm because I’m craving salt and vinegar peanuts (random, but thats what I’m thinking about right now), I can go. Not having a car at camp, or the freedom to leave whenever I desire, can take some getting used to – but trust me, it’s worth it!

7. The ability to get around without a car. 

Its rare that I ever do these days but if I wanted to, I could leave my house right now and walk to the local shop, the hairdressers, the doctors, the chemist, the florist, the pub (essential!)… you get my drift. In America, things are often SO far apart and the public transport is pretty much non-existent (unless you’re in a city), that it’s almost impossible to get around without a car. No car = no freedom!

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8. The festival season. 

Prior to my summer camp days, I have been to festivals in the summer such as Parklife and V-Fest with my friends which I LOVED. Singing and dancing the weekend away in a muddy field with my besties is definitely my idea of a good time. Being away for the whole summer pretty much rules you out of going to any festival, and can lead to a serious case of FOMO while you’re watching your friends snapchat stories of Calvin Harris doing his thing on the main stage!

9. English TV. 

If you’re lucky enough to find any spare time to watch TV this summer, make sure you stick to Netflix! The adverts alone on American TV are enough to drive anyone insane, never mind the programmes.  The majority of the adverts look like they were made by a Y10 ICT student, and spend hours (or so it seems) listening potential side effects of whatever drug they’re advertising! You’ll be begging for the Go Compare man back in your life by the end of the summer.

10. Paying with chip and pin/contactless. 

This seems like such a small thing, but the majority of America are still using the swipe and sign method last seen in England in 2006. I always thought that the Americans were so far ahead of us when it came to technology, but apparently not! Now we have contactless and it’s even easier to pay by card, I can only imagine my frustration every time I have to sign a fiddly bit of paper this summer in America.

11. Tax already being added to everything we buy.

As different states charge different amounts of tax on items, tax is not added on until you get to the till. It gets even more confusing if you start your day in one state (such as Connecticut, where the tax rate is currently 6.35%), and end up in another (such as New York, where the tax rate is lower). Tax doesn’t make much of a difference if you are buying a  $2 pizza slice, but can add up when you are spending $80 in Walmart on ‘essentials’ (a.k.a Oreos and fancy dress accessories).

12. People understanding what I am saying. 

Being from Yorkshire, I am already quite used to questions about my accent, but at least English people UNDERSTAND what I am trying to say. If I asked an English person to put on a swimming costume, put something in the bin or tell them I am going on holiday, they would know perfectly well what I mean. Although we speak the same language in many ways, we really don’t. I miss not having to correct myself when greeted by blank looks every time I say ‘I’ll ring you’ – FYI the Americans never ring anyone, only call them instead!

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13. ‘Me’ time. 

From the moment you arrive at camp, you will find yourself surrounded by people. Whether it’s sharing your cabin with other staff during staff training, living with the campers, in the showers with at least 10 other people, or on your day off with your friends; it’s rare that you are ever alone. Luckily I’m not someone who really requires much ‘me’ time, and I love being around people, but going to the toilet in peace once every so often wouldn’t go amiss!

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Add 200 campers in the to mix and it doesn’t leave much room for any ‘me’ time!

Yet despite all of the above, I find myself wanting to return summer after summer – so for me, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives! Missing home is something that all Counselors experience at some point throughout the summer, but having photos around your bunk and regular contact with your family and friends (and a secret Cadbury stash in your suitcase!) can make spending the summer in the U.S. that little bit easier.

If you missed the reasons that I LOVE summer camp, and the reasons that make me want to leave home every summer, find it HERE!

March 13th, 2017.

If you follow me on Twitter (@how2survivecamp), you’ll already know that last Thursday embassy1.png
was the day of my visa appointment at the U.S. embassy in London. For me, getting my visa is really the final ‘formal’ process of applying to summer camp every year and now it has been approved, the countdown to camp has really began!

The day started out with a train journey from Doncaster to London Kings Cross. I had pre-booked my tickets with Northern Rail just after Christmas when they had a sale on, and the tickets only ended up costing me around £23 – bargain! You save so much money booking in advance! My friend looked on the day for a single ticket to London and the cheapest option was around £55, so don’t leave it until the last minute to book your embassy appointment and book those train tickets! Also, getting the train may cost you a little bit more but (for me) it definitely beats spending half of your life on a Megabus that makes 3925 stops on the way to London!

The U.S. embassy is located in Grosvenor Square, Mayfair, and it’s quite easy to get to from Kings Cross. I left Kings Cross station, walked into St Pancras (literally next door!),  and caught the Piccadilly line on the tube to Holborn, followed by the Central line to Bond Street (the closest underground station to the embassy). From Bond Street, the embassy is literally a 5 minute walk away (if that!) – I used Google Maps for the walk on my first trip to the embassy but now I manage to find my way!

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I was super excited to arrive at the embassy as I knew a bunch of my friends from camp were also applying for their visas on the same day and as they say, camp friends are the best friends! After a quick hello and lots of hugs,  I went over to the USA Summer Camp/Camp Leaders stand, where I was able to collect the final piece of documentation (the DS-2019 form) and join the queue to enter the embassy.

My appointment this year was later than the ones I have had previously, and wasn’t until 11am. By this time, the queues were HUGE outside the embassy! My friends had their appointments earlier on in the day, and said there was no queue then, so if you’re in any kind of rush, arrive as early as possible!

FINALLY I arrived at the front of the queue, and entered the area where you and your personal belongings are scanned (just like being at an airport!). You are able to take bags, phones etc. into the embassy, but you cannot take any laptops or tablets inside the building with you. If you know someone who is going to be there and can keep it outside with them for you, great! If not, leave them at home and bring a book to keep you entertained on your journey instead.

I entered the embassy through the door on the right-hand side of the building, and collected a number from the receptionist who checked I had all the correct document I then entered the waiting room surrounded by numbered booths, and waited for my number to be called – it’s a bit like being at the deli counter in Morrisons! When my number was called, a  booth number (number 7!) flashed on a screen for me to go to, and the agent there then processed my forms and took my fingerprints.

Once this part was completed, I was instructed to go around the corner and join yet ANOTHER queue for the ‘interview’ section of the application. This is nothing to worry about! You are just stood at another booth, where the agent may ask you questions about where you are going, what you will be doing, and what your plans are when you return to the UK. I have never (yet!) been asked to provide any documentary evidence to prove that I will return to the UK, but it’s always handy to take something with you just incase.

After spending around 30 minutes in the embassy, I was told my visa had been granted and that was that – simple! I talked to a few people in the queue outside who were really nervous about going in for the first time, but it really is nothing to worry about. There are sooooooo many other first timers there who are all in exactly the same boat as you, and it is such a quick, well organised process that it’s over and done before you know it.

That meant it was time to explore London with my camp friends! Our first stop was food (of course), followed by a walk down Regent Street, a quick stop at Piccadilly Circus and then as it was such a nice day, we went and soaked up the sun in Hyde Park.

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The day came to a stressful end when I arrived back at Kings Cross to find my train had been cancelled due to signalling problems, and the alternative train was literally packed!! It’s a good job I am only 5ft1 (and a half) and don’t require much personal space…

Now it’s just time to wait for my passport to be delivered back to me. Keep your eyes peeled on Twitter/Instagram for photo evidence!

 

 

 

Completing your Online Visa Application Form

With many peoples visa appointments at the U.S. Embassy fast approaching, and having recently completed the application process myself, I thought I would give you all a few tips on how to survive the dreaded visa  form! Just kidding by the way, it’s really quite simple but quite time consuming and not to be rushed!

If you haven’t already completed Part One of the application (and got yourself an Application ID beginning AA…), check out my my guide to the first steps of applying for that all-important visa HERE!

Camp agencies normally provide detailed, in depth instructions on how to correctly complete a visa application, so I am just providing you with a few heads up and things to watch out for on the application.

Firstly, here is the link to the online visa application website:  https://ceac.state.gov/GenNIV/Default.aspx

Secondly, here is a list of things you will need handy completing the visa application:

  • Your passport.
  • Your National Insurance number.
  • Information regarding your employment history for the last 5 years (including dates of employment).
  • Information about your parents (including full names, addresses and dates of birth).
  • Two additional points of contact that are not related to you (I normally choose two close friends/family friends/neighbours) – including their names, addresses and contact details.
  • An online version of a passport-style photo.
  • The name of your Camp Director, their contact details and the camps address.
  • Your social security number (if you are a returner and have one from a previous year).
  • Any previous visa information (again, if you are a returner).

My first piece of advice is to SAVE EVERYTHING!!!!! As soon as you have completed a page, before you move on to the next one make sure you select save application at the bottom of the page. Trust me, no one wants to have to complete more than one of these a year!! Also, take your time with your visa application. Its super important that you get all of the information correct and if in ANY doubt, contact your agency.

visa1.png

Here is what the page will look like when you open the link. Enter the country you are applying for the visa in (in my case, England), enter the code shown and then select ‘Retrieve an Application’ (if you wrote down your AA… number when you first started the visa process!).

The first few pages of the application are generally straight forward – mostly personal details including; your given name (make sure you enter your name as it is shown on your passport – in my case, Eleanor not Ellie!),  date and place of birth, nationality and National Insurance number. Personal details are followed by address and contact details, and then passport information.

The first tricky question is the passport/travel document type. For the majority of us normal folk, you need to select ‘Regular’. If your parents happen to be Diplomats, you may need to contact your agency before proceeding with the visa application.

visa2

The second tricky part in this section is the ‘Where was the passport/travel documentPassport example issued?’ question on the Passport Information page. On the photo page of your passport, you may find it says ‘IPS’ under the ‘Authority’ heading. If you see this or ‘UKPA’, then that is acceptable to put as your answer to this question.

Continuing on, the next section is ‘Travel Information’. It is important you select the correct option here, so that you don’t end up applying for the wrong type of visa! As we are applying for a J1 visa, select ‘Exchange Visitor’ from the list of options for the ‘Purpose of trip to the US’. See the pictures below for an example!

visa3visa4visa4visa5

Note: the ‘Help’ notes on the right hand side of the page (see the red arrow on the first picture) can be really helpful – make sure you read them if you get stuck!

Your intended date of arrival should be the date you are scheduled to arrive in the US, and intended length of stay is generally 4 months (check your specific agency instructions – I followed the instructions for USA Summer Camp/Camp Leaders).

The address where you will stay in the US is where you enter your camp’s address – see my example below.

visa6.png

The next section requests information about your previous travel to the US and visa history. Answer appropriately to yourself, and provide details where required. This is followed by your US point of contact, where you usually enter the name of your Camp Director and their contact details (use the same address for the camp as you used in the previous section).

visa7.png

The next section is where you need to enter information about your family, followed by your employment history for the past 5 years – both pretty straight forward!

After this comes a few pages worth of ridiculous security questions, including ‘Are you coming to the United States to engage in prostitution?’, ‘Are you a member or representative of a terrorist organisation?’ and ‘Have you ever engaged in the recruitment or the use of child soldiers?’.  I’m not entirely sure anyone with that kind of background would select ‘yes’ to any of those questions, but I’m hoping that you will be able to select ‘no’ to all of the above.

Finally, you will need to provide your SEVIS number (provided to your by your camp agency), upload your passport-style photo, and sign and submit the form. Make sure you print off the confirmation page that appears once you have submitted your application, and take it along with you to your visa appointment.

visa doc.png

Things you MUST take to your visa appointment:

  • Visa confirmation page (see picture above – also known as a DS-160 visa application form).
  • Passport
  • Appointment instructions (emailed to you when you book your visa appointment).
  • One AMERICAN passport photo (make sure you select the ‘American’ option in the photo booth – American passport photos are more square (2 inches x 2 inches) than DS-2019 Form-3inch.jpgthe ones we use for British passports).
  • DS-2019 form (most agencies (Camp Leaders, USA Summer Camp, Camp America) will provide you with this on the day. Some agencies, such as Wildpacks, will send you this in the post prior to your visa day).
  • SEVIS receipt.
  • Proof of intent to return to UK after camp has ended. This could include documents such as:
    • University details (for the forthcoming details).
    • Proof of employment upon return (e.g. contract/letter from employer).
    • Proof of housing upon return (e.g. rental contract, letter from landlord).
    • Any other evidence of social/economic ties to your home country (some people take a letter from their parents).

If you have any questions AT ALL about your upcoming visa appointment, or need some help completing your application, leave me a comment and I will get back to you! My visa appointment is coming up on Thursday (9th March, 2017) and I am excited for a trip to London, and to catch up with my southern camp friends while I’m down there!

Keep your eyes peeled for my upcoming journal post about my trip to the US embassy!