Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My Summer Camp Theory

I was never unrealistic about my expectations for living abroad. I knew there would be ups and downs of all kinds and I acknowledged that I had NO idea what to expect in either direction. But the one thing I wasn't worried about? Homesickness.
See, when I was 10 my parents (finally) let me go to sleep away camp with my big brother for the first time. Though the session was a month long and my only opportunity to see or talk to my parents would be a few hours on visiting day, I wasn't concerned. 

The way I remember my first day, it went something like this:
On a late June morning in 1996, I was crammed into the backseat of my family's car on my to summer camp in upstate New York. It was my brother's third year, but my first. I'd been begging to go for years, but my parents were still nervous I wasn't ready.

Their concerns weren't exactly unfounded. Even at the advanced age of 12, many of big Bro's first letters, two years earlier, had been filled with bargaining tactics hoping they'd let him come home. He ultimately settled in and eagerly returned the next year. Although homesickness wasn't a player that second summer, he arrived home at the end of the August session the proud owner of a certificate that read, "I survived puke-fest '95". My parents weren't so sure I was ready for all that. I was sure I could puke with the best of 'em.

By the time we finally reached the Mennonite  farm at the entrance to Camp Road, I was completely restless.  My father had insisted on driving the speed limit the entire way. The farm's owners, dressed in traditional garb, were out working in their corn fields and waved enthusiastically as we drove by. I was sure that we'd been driving SO slowly that we'd actually gone back in time.

Several hundred years later, we arrived in the village I was to call home for the next four weeks. Before the car had even stopped moving, I flung myself out the back door and into the cabin with my name on it.  Within seconds I was completely immersed in the very serious process of picking a bed (top bunk of course) and already chatting away with new friends.  When it was time for my parents to leave, the counselor had to remind me to say goodbye.

My empathy skills were still a tad underdeveloped, and I really couldn't understand why so many of my friends were having such a hard time.  The only tears I shed that summer were on the final day of camp when my cruel parents dragged me home, kicking and screaming. I went back for 9 summers, each with the same story.

And that is why I was POSITIVE that  though I fully expected to encounter all kinds of struggles here in India, homesickness would surely not be one of them.

I was wrong.

I'd like to take this opportunity to offer a very belated apology to my dear bunkmates. I get it now. I'm sure that, "You miss your parents and your bed? Well just stop missing them and you'll feel better!" probably wasn't helpful advice.

This morning I woke to find my Facebook newsfeed overwhelmed with updates about the final days of the July 2012 session of camp, posted by my lucky friends and former campers who are still able to return as staff. The photos are filled with children and teens grinning from ear to ear- not out of obligation but out of pure, unadulterated, unmatched, uninhibited joy. There is no. doubt. in. my. mind. that many of those same campers spent the first many days of July crying, and missing home. Many probably thought that they'd never make it through the month, they'd never have any fun, and they'd never come back a second summer. But they did and they will, and their beautiful smiles are proof.

And I will get over this too, and I'm sure that on my final day in India Tal will have to call my parents for tips on how to get me to leave.

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