Camp Ouareau is situated in the north of Québec, around 2 hours from Montréal. Established in 1922, it is an all-girls camp in a French/ English bilingual setting. Strong Ouareau tradition has run through families for generations, proudly producing “Ouareau girls” across Canada and across the world.
Is it what I expected?
No matter what people tell you about working as a counsellor, I don’t think you fully understand until you do it yourself. I will try my best to give you an insight of what it is to be a counsellor at Camp Ouareau…
Camp is a culture within a culture so it was evident from the start it would take some time to adjust. I can say it was nothing short of a culture shock. The campfire songs, singing before every meal and the idea of ‘happy campers’ were things that made me cringe at the start, but perhaps the shock was due to my reserved British attitude. Not growing up in a camp made it harder to understand aspects of this North American / Canadian way of life. Nonetheless, like all new journeys and experiences, it takes time to adapt and then you can enjoy.
My role at camp
I’m the tennis coach, a counsellor in the senior unit for girls 14/ 15-year olds, and I teach French and English through the camp’s unique linguistic programme.
I was nervous going to work in a camp for the first time. I knew the majority of the staff had grown up at Camp Ouareau so this factor added to my nerves that I would be a complete outsider, not getting to grips with camp style, in addition to the difficult Quebecois French accent. These reservations proved to be irrelevant as everyone made me feel so welcome in such a tight-knit community. Cutting the ribbon for the 97th year at Ouareau signified I was not a ‘new’ or ‘original’ part of the team, it signified I was a Ouareau girl in an all-inclusive working environment. I learnt how to (properly) canoe, kayak and bullay the climbing wall. Tennis coaching got easier as time progressed, as did counselling teenagers and I really loved my campers.
« Je suis débranchée »
Camp Ouareau promotes an unplugged / débranché programme: an opportunity for both staff and campers to get away from technology. As staff, we are only allowed phones at limited times of the day. I wasn’t sure how I would cope not being able to have instant access to Facebook messenger or continue with my obsession for Instagram, because, if you don’t ‘gram it’, did it really happen?
My blog writing was put on hold because of the programme so I opted for the ‘old fashioned’ way – writing in a travel journal. I’ve now found the time to revert back to technology, updating the virtual world on my travels.
The result: I am coping extremely well. Finding the time or WiFi to use my phone is often more effort than it’s worth. I’ve enjoyed being able to converse properly with people, establishing real connections and opening my eyes to the world around me. I realise how rude and distracting it is to be attached to a phone, the vibrations and pings drawing us away from having a conversation ‘irl’. It’s true we live in an age of unneeded competition; Instagram and Snapchat stories reminding us what we are doing is never as exciting as someone else. Being unplugged removes this stress.
I want to make a conscious effort to stick to this in the “real world” (ie outside of camp). Hopefully the time spent scrolling through Instagram and Facebook feeds is minimised significantly. It’s amazing how productive you can be without a phone in hand.
Pushing comfort zones
Every day I took little steps to overcome personal boundaries. Whether it was getting to the top of the climbing wall or facing my fear of thunderstorms, (I had to check on my campers in the midst of one in pitch darkness. I arrived at their tent to find them all fast asleep, oblivious to the storm.) Most notably, my comfort zone was pushed through performing.
Disclaimer: I can’t sing nor dance.
Grâce au camp, I learnt how to not take myself too seriously and just go for it! Highlights of this were presenting ‘Camp Rock night’, and dancing to ‘Hasta La Vista’ in front of the senior unit. Even cow stunts proved to be a lot of fun, dancing to Grease’s ‘You’re the One that I Want’. The roars from the campers were enough to make me think I was some sort of pro!
It’s not all rosy being a counsellor.
My biggest obstacle are the mosquitos. They love “foreign European blood” and in late June, I was waking up with new bites every morning and it was unbearable. But like most things at camp you learn how to deal with it and here’s my advice: Don’t scratch the bites….
I found at times keeping kids motivated from morning to night quite tiring but rewarding establishing connections with my campers. I also found it difficult to find alone time but then you appreciate the days off a lot more. However, these minor bumps in the journey are almost irrelevant compared to what you gain out of the experience.
Wearing my green Ouareau t-shirt and beige ‘pants’ (trousers), I feel lucky to be working in such a beautiful place, surrounded by mountains, wind and water. Getting to know the most interesting, friendly, kind and funny girls, sometimes it’s easy to forget I’m working. The scenery is more breath-taking than what I envisioned when I first considered coming to Canada.
I have so many fond and funny memories of July camp it’s hard to pinpoint my favourite. I thoroughly enjoyed my early morning runs, kayaking, paddle-boarding and hiking all the way to Lac Lemieux. The most stunning sunsets over the lake, the s’mores, sticky buns, socks and crocs and the overnight canoe trip to Doigs island are all things I’ll fondly remember.
Be a global learner…
The skills we learn here aren’t restricted to the summer. Whether we as monitrices become teachers or carers, we’ve learnt how to be expressive bilingual young women, confident in ourselves and proud of our achievements.
I’ve gained knowledge about such a beautiful part of the world, understanding controversies about indigenous peoples, appreciating Canadian camp culture.
When the girls were asked “What’s your ‘grâce au camp?’” many responses were along the lines of: learning how to be independent, pushing comfort zones, having friends from across the world. All of which I can relate to entirely.
I returned to Montréal over mid camp and as explained in my last blog post, it’s a haven for urban art. I stumbled across a coloured message on the pavement around Mile End; “all we have is now.” It reminded me to seize every single opportunity, doing what makes you happy and for me, to travel and gain as much knowledge as I can through experiences.
Grâce au camp, j’ai eu l’occasion de rencontrer un groupe de filles incroyables qui viennent de partout dans le monde. Merci à toutes les filles gentilles que j’ai rencontrées. Vous avez fait ma première année au camp inoubliable et divertissante. Je n’aurais pas pu demander pour de meilleurs co-cows ou de meilleures filles dans ma cabine. Merci pour votre patience, votre compréhension et votre aide avec mon français. Grace à vous, je suis devenue une fille de Ouareau.