Working at Point Reyes Summer Camp was terrible in the first week of training. I was homesick. I have not worked with kids since I was fifteen. I was the only Chinese-looking counselor at camp. I felt excited but alienated from the rest of the group. It was the first legit job I have taken in the Untied States. Don’t get me wrong, Point Reyes was a beautiful and peaceful place. It is just me, trying to push through the pain of getting comfortable to a new environment, and surrounding myself with new colleagues.
I thought my English was good. Well, yes and no. I have improved a lot since I first came to the United States. I remember asking what “Taco Bell” was. I was confused if this restaurant chain serves “taco” or “bell” because I had no idea what taco was. Now, I understand what “Taco Bell” is. I know what “in-and-out” is. I can tell if people are being sarcastic. I have survived UC Berkeley lectures. I wrote a 20-page thesis. I thought I was ready.
Not at all. Kids have their own language. And growing up not speaking English, kids language is a “foreign” language on top of a foreign language. I was bombarded by all the camp briefings and information the first week of camp training. I literally had an headache; I needed a break in the cabin, but my counselor friends were curious learning about me. I always found myself needing some reaction time to receive, process, and react in English. It was difficult. There was nothing much I could do about it. What I did was I immersed myself in the English speaking environment. I pushed myself to the verge. And after two months, my reaction time reduced, and summer camp English almost became second nature to me.
Camp language was difficult. It was very different for me. I could never understand what these phrases came from. Loosey-goosey, okie-dokie, cuddle-puddle. I didn’t know what “skid” night was. I didn’t know what a “mesk kit” was. I was just completely lost.
Names were difficult. I have only encountered half of the campers’ names in my entire life. Wyatt, Angelo, Amelia, Nathaniel, Alastir. Just too many for me.
Learning cultures of American kids was even more difficult. I never grew up here, and did not know how to respond to “knock knock.” Okay, after a week, I knew to respond “Who’s there.” After that, my conversation to the kid couldn’t go anywhere farther. Sometimes, I even had to pretend to laugh when they make a jokes that I couldn’t understand. That was not fun.
After two months, it was worth it. So worth it! The first turning point was when another counselor and I played “shark and meno” with our campers. I was running and avoiding sharks like a kid again. No one cared if I don’t understand. Maybe nobody even noticed! Most importantly, I had FUN. I re-discovered my tung zen. I re-conneceted to nature. And I rekindled my artistic self-confidence that has been dormant for almost a decade!
Literally sleeping under the stars. I decided to sleep outside freezing cold just to see this.
Camp fire songs remind me I still love music.
Kids make me smile, or cry.
My buddy makes me feel welcome all the time
Learning and nailing new card games
Think like a kid. Try new things. Don’t be afraid to fall. After 8 weeks going to the beach twice a week practicing and practicing, I nailed my front flip.
Checking out the ship wreck
And the San Andreas fault, which is still moving 2.5 inch/ year!
Alamere Falls with our naturalist and counselor 🙂
Of course the tree tunnel!
Almost forgot I can draw!
When you are struggling, take a breath, take smaller steps, take a break. Pushing limits can be painful. Keep going, and turn around to see how far you have reached. Appreciate yourself. Find exciting things in life that excite you. Allow yourself to recognize the pain you are going through. But overwhelm yourself with positive energy.
Nature and kids fill me up with positive energy that I forget I was stressing about things.
I can’t be more thankful right now. I’ve learned a lot and I’ve grown to be a better person. Now, wherever the world takes me, I’ll be there, while pushing through the pain of whatever it is in the future.