By: Amelia Perri
I had always talked about teaching abroad. It seemed to be the only solution to my restlessness.Teach and travel. However, jobs, money, and weddings put any concrete plans on hold. Then, thankfully, one of many quarter-life crises forced me to get my online TEFL Certification from the International TEFL Academy. I was one step closer to reaching my goal of moving overseas and teaching English abroad.
I did not want to wait until the upcoming autumn hiring season; I was ready to start my journey immediately. I researched international summer camps and two organizations stood out – ACLE and Camp California. I applied to both in hopes that I would be abroad sooner than September.
Eventually, I received responses from both camps asking me to join their staff that summer. ACLE was based in Italy and Camp California in Croatia. Even though I was planning on teaching English in Italy after working at a summer camp and ACLE may have been a logical choice with regards to connections and location, I ultimately decided to travel to Croatia that summer.
Camp California in Croatia is an international summer camp on the Dalmatian Coast. It is a wonderful organization that teaches English through activity for their campers that come from all over the world. Camp California operates three programs: Resident Camp, Teen Sailing, and Teen Adventure. Campers, ages 7 through 17, can chose to stay for a 1 week session or a 2 week session. The campers take part in variety of activities, from the waterfront, to outdoor adventure, to the arts – all instructed by the counselors.
Counselors sign up for a work exchange program. You sign a contract to be a counselor for 10 weeks and you eat, sleep, and live with the campers. You are given 24 hours off a week and are expected to be a positive, caring, and energetic mentor. At the end of the summer counselors receive a travel reimbursement as pay. This sum covers the cost of your flight and plenty extra if you would like to travel in Europe following your camp assignment. A summer camp is a unique and rare find in Europe – and Camp California is the best one there is.
Camp California offers a slice of paradise to the campers where lifelong friendships are born, confidence is built, and memories are made. As a counselor, you must provide a safe, enriching, and fun environment for the children. Campers are the first and main priority. Counselors need to be not only the camper’s friend, but also mentor. A counselor needs to get them through their sleepless nights from being homesick, help them conquer their fears of the ropes course, and be their number one fan while they are on stage for the play. As a counselor, you leave a lasting impression on every camper’s life. They will remember that friendship bracelet you made them or the talk you had while walking to the waterpark. If you are willing and ready to put your whole heart into this job, be full of energy, and play by the camp’s rules then you will have the best summer of your life.
Within a week I had agreed to spend the summer in Croatia and booked a one way ticket to Europe. I was nervous, shocked, and excited.
When I stepped onto the bus in Zagreb, I had no idea that the other people on it would soon become great friends and make such a strong impact on my life. I was sleep-deprived, luggage-less, and yearning for a shower to rinse off the after-plane-ride dirtiness I felt covered in. Drifting in and out of consciousness, I overheard conversations of anxious people, eager to spend a summer working in Croatia, and found myself unable to wipe the goofy smile off my face.
The following 24 hours were a complete blur; there were countless names to memorize, silly camp songs to sing, and what seemed to be a maze of dirt paths to become familiar with. I was beyond excited to live by the sea in Croatia, knowing it was only just the beginning of my journey abroad.
Over 30 amazing souls from all over the world came together to a small village in Croatia where we worked together at an international summer camp and created our own piece of paradise. Little did we know that we signed up for a summer of getting excited over fruit yogurt, avoiding sea urchins, playing volleyball at night, eating bushels of fresh fruit, falling asleep with camp songs in our heads, making lifelong friendships, and for some, even falling in love.
The days at camp started early and ended late. I was ruled by my watch, yet found myself amazed at how quickly the time was passing. My typical day began with a run through Pakoštane, too many cups of hot coffee at breakfast, managing activities, food, more activities, more food, and an evening event where I happily was going to make a fool of myself. It was wonderful and I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
Every night I went to sleep smiling and feeling so blessed that I was able to enjoy this experience. I was lucky enough to live on the Adriatic sea, swim daily in the bluest water, play sports and games with fun-loving people, eat well, and surround myself with truly amazing friends.
To add some excitement to our daily routines, each week we were gifted with precious 24-hours off. The anxious wait for the release of days and names became a secret highlight of the week. These days off were not a time to rest and recharge our batteries; but rather, they were the green light to go ahead and explore Croatia and enjoy 24 carefree hours together, which is exactly what we did. Once the list of names went up, the cogs began turning and plans were instantly churned out. We rented countless Fiats, flagged down a few buses, and chartered a few boats throughout the summer. These wonderful days brought us to Zadar, Pag Island, Plitvice, Krka, Šibenik, and multiple islands throughout the Adriatic.
Although it wasn’t always easy to reach consensus on plans, there was an unspoken agreement that we were all itching for some sort of adventure. We danced all night, swam with dolphins, jumped off bridges, island hopped, bungee jumped, feasted on delicious meals, visited pristine waterfalls, and cliff jumped into the open sea. The days off left us with sun-tanned skin, for the most part wound-free, and buzzing with adrenaline, and even more in love with each other and Croatia.
The summer was an emotional roller-coaster ride from the constant tearful goodbyes that had to be said at the end of every session. However, after we finished singing ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’ for the final time, my heart wasn’t breaking. I knew that our adventures were going to continue beyond our upcoming backpacking travels and throughout the year. Now instead of days off to organize, we had reunions in Ireland, the United Kingdom, Hungary, and Italy to plan. The paradise we created in Croatia this summer is now spread out throughout the world, living within us until the fragmented pieces can be joined again next summer.
Amelia Perri is a 25 year old teacher, traveler, and writer. She completed the International TEFL Academy Online TEFL Class and has been abroad for almost two years working, living and teaching English abroad in Italy, Croatia and Thailand.
Check out her awesome blog: www.befearlessandhopeful.blogspot.com