Working at a Summer Camp allows you to explore new cities and discover everything America has to offer, but it also gives you a wide range of new skills, hobbies and experiences that you can take back with you to the UK and even use in your future career. In this blog, Doyin, one of our previous applicants talks about her experience working as a Creative Cooking Specialist in America and how that helped to open her own Cupcake Business!
If you’d had told me that at the end of my final year at Bournemouth University, I’d be jetting off to a summer camp to work as a Cooking Specialist in America, I wouldn’t have believed you. But 2015 was a life-changing year! Here I am, five years on, reminiscing on the experience of a lifetime.
It was a banner in the university foyer that first drew my attention to the idea of camp. I hadn’t heard much about American summer camps beyond The Parent Trap and American Pie movies. But with the final year of my bachelor’s degree completed and a long summer ahead, I decided to explore the USA Summer Camp programme. American summer camps are a world of its own. With a plethora of activities available, I wished I could have attended as a kid in the 90s.
In my early application stages I was keen to work as an Art Specialist, as I believed that’s where my strongest skills lied. However, USA Summer Camp encouraged me to explore other skills that I could offer as an alternative selling point. This was to ensure the highest chances of securing a role. Little did I expect to be hired as a Creative Cooking Specialist – in New York at that! Cooking was my second skill, but I didn’t think I was good enough or anywhere near advanced level to teach it. I was a home cook at best, just cooking for my housemates. However, being hired as a Creative Cooking Specialist ended up being one of my greatest development opportunities at that time.
I attended a camp open day in London and was lucky to be hired by the first camp I approached that morning. They didn’t have any more positions available to work as an Art Specialist, but I was given the opportunity to pitch my cooking skills to the camp Director in 90 seconds. I nailed my pitch and just like that, I was the final Specialist Counsellor hired for their Creative Cooking Specialist department in 2015.
The prospect of working in America for three months was both exhilarating and scary. From the application stage to arranging my J-1 work visa, flights and New York City accommodation, USA Summer Camp was supportive every step of the way. This was a relief because I was a first time Counsellor who was flying to New York solo. New York had always been on my USA travel bucket list, so I was thrilled to be working in the state. Camp was just a two-hour drive from the city, so there was plenty of time to see it in all its grandeur.
Working as a Creative Cooking Specialist in America was challenging yet rewarding. I wasn’t too confident in my abilities at first, but our team was lucky to be working under the guidance of a professional chef, who taught us everything from complex recipes to culinary terminology. In 2015, the cooking department became so popular, that we’d have a long queue of campers eager to attend every day. It was such a thrill to work with brand new recipes each day and see the end results. I especially loved being able to work with young people, as it was their passion that really brought the department to life.
As a Creative Cooking Specialist, no day or recipe was the same at camp. Every morning campers would select six activities they wanted to try. Three of those activities a camper would specialise in for the next three weeks. This could be anything from horse-riding to professional circus performance.
After breakfast, we’d head to our departments for the day. In the Creative Cooking department, that meant being briefed on a new recipe and prepping all the ingredients before the first lesson started. The first lesson would usually be the first opportunity we’d get to make the recipe. Therefore, close attention to detail was necessary to ensure nothing went wrong with the recipe.
From 9am-5pm every day, we’d teach six cooking lessons that lasted 45 minutes each. It would begin with a cooking demonstration from our head of department, then the Creative Cooking Specialists would break out into smaller groups and teach the campers how to cook the recipe using a table of ingredients.
At the end of the lesson each camper would sample the food they made before heading to their next planned activity. There was a 15-minute break between each session, allowing us enough time to clean and measure ingredients before the next group of campers walked in. Throughout the day there’d be time for a lunch break, dinner and evening camp activities. Then by 10pm, staff were off-duty and could head to a local bar, the gym, watch a movie or do whatever during their personal downtime.
Our cupcake days were the most challenging for me. I wasn’t the best baker at the time, so I struggled. It felt like something would always go wrong that particular day. From using baking soda instead of baking powder to buttercream frosting splitting. It was quite intense, but after a few sessions, I got the hang of it. We even hosted cupcake decorating parties whenever it was a camper’s birthday. All the trial and error really boosted my confidence in baking – a secondary skill of mine that needed fine-tuning prior to joining camp.
As of January 2016, I founded online bakery ‘The Cupcake Avenue’. If it wasn’t for working at camp, I probably would have never explored this as a secondary business prospect while working full-time in corporate PR. The camp experience is a wonderful opportunity to develop a new skill and I now consider baking an advanced skill. If you want to see my progress, check out @cupcakeav on Instagram and be inspired.
If you’re not sure what career path you want to go down after graduation and love working with kids, consider signing up for the 2021 USA Summer Camp programme. You can discover potential career paths or boost existing skills and hobbies. If you’re particularly passionate about baking, I suggest the following tips to get hired as a Cooking Specialist in America:
If that’s not convincing enough, a J-1 visa allows you one month of travel across America. So, if you’re a young and talented wanderlust, camp is the right choice for you! Almost like a rite of passage. Apply today to get started on your Summer Camp application!