I’ve always made fun of Camp Kids. By that, I mean people who have gone to camp every summer since age 6; the people who became counselors once they were too old to be campers.
Summer camp was never for me. I never identified with the unique brand of enthusiasm and spirit that I saw displayed at YMCA day camp, nor the long-term sleepaway camp I attended that is popular in North Carolina. The one summer I spent a full month there, I felt more isolated than I ever had before. I struggled to relate to the other kids (who were by and large very sheltered white girls from affluent families), 2 minute showers didn’t give me anywhere close to enough time to wash my hair, and I missed home. This is why I never understood the infatuation that so many of my friends harbored for camp. It always seemed like a cult to me that only a very specific type of person could be a part of; someone who purchased at least 75% of their wardrobe at REI and played the ukulele.
When I arrived at Stanford for Global Launch, I noticed a lot of behaviors that reminded me of my first day at camp in 2011. Alumni and staff members waited for us at a table with name tags, GCY-branded water bottles, and booklets, dancing vivaciously to a mixture of Latin, Brazilian, Bollywood, and Senegalese music. My mind flashed back to arriving at camp on a hot summer day in 2011, and the counselors who waited there to greet me with the same eager grins. I suddenly felt a wave of apprehension pass over me as I wondered whether GCY would just be an extended stay at an overzealous summer camp.
What I encountered over the next week both confirmed and disputed that apprehension. During Global Launch, I learned things and had conversations that have already dramatically changed my perspective of not only the world, but also myself. I listened to speeches from the likes of Shiza Shahid (the woman who co-founded the Malala Fund) to CNN’s 2015 Hero of the Year, Maggie Doyne (who is also the mother of one of my new friends in the cohort). I learned to share the deepest parts of my soul with people I had just met on the first full day of Global Launch, surprising myself almost beyond belief. But by far the most unexpected part of that week was that I felt so at home. I felt as if I was in a place where I could share my story authentically, be honest about my experiences, and be myself without fear of judgment.
There was a moment when Abby Falik, the CEO of GCY, was giving a speech and invited all the Fellows to meditate so as to become grounded. As she instructed us to place both feet on the ground and focus our minds on the present, I was struck with a profound sense that I was in the perfect place– not necessarily ‘perfect’ in the full sense of the word, but perfect for me at this juncture in my life. I suddenly knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that I was meant to embark on this journey ahead of me. All my fears and doubts were not silenced, but were accepted without resistance from my mind as a necessary part of this adventure.
Over the past couple of weeks, I have learned that GCY is a bit like camp. We participate in structured activities, we play schoolyard games together every time we get a chance, and we joke around like 11 year old kids sometimes. But in direct contrast to the skepticism I would have harbored in the past at something of this nature, I love it. I love the sense of belonging and peace that being here brings me, as well as the discomfort and nervousness of not knowing what the future will bring. I love the people I have met and the bonds I have already formed with them. I love the communal meals and even the schedules the Team Leaders and GCY staff have prepared for us every day.
Although GCY is in many, many ways different from summer camp, I now know what it feels like to be in love with a place and a group of people to the extent that the Camp Kids I used to make fun of are. I won’t be branding the GCY logo on my body just yet like some of the Camp Kids I know have done, but I will say that maybe camp- or rather, similar environments- aren’t so bad after all. I’ll even venture to say that they lead to some of the only situations that allow people to be fully and truly themselves, and that is an experience I will never take for granted.