For many kids in the US and around the world, summer camp is the quintessential memory of a great summer vacation growing up. Whether it be learning a sport, practicing a musical instrument, or just a good ol’ hanging out in the woods sort of camp, participating in a camp offers lifelong memories and friendships from childhood. But who says you have to grow out of it?
Working at a camp during your gap year or summer holiday, particularly one abroad, gives you the chance to not only relive your glory days, but also a new chance to travel, explore, teach, and influence the lives of today’s youngsters. Whether you want to work in the summer or more long term, and whether you like to camp, teach languages, or share your sports skills, there’s a good chance that there’s a camp abroad that could be the perfect fit for you.
There’s really no set criteria when choosing a camp job that’s right for you, but there are plenty of things to consider along the way. If you have a limited amount of time available for this adventure, maybe you can only do a couple-week session. If not, perhaps you want to work for an entire season and watch many different campers cycle through. A large chunk of camps require their staff to pay their own flights to and from location, but there is a large range of earnings available across the world. Some camps rely on volunteers or only provide a small stipend, while others provide plenty of pay on which to live, travel, or save. These are all important factors depending on your needs and wants, but here are some of the most popular options:
- Teach English at a Camp: One of the most common things that camps in other countries are looking for is native English speakers to teach the campers. While these camps oftentimes require TEFL certification, they are all structured differently. Sometimes the main focus of the camp is learning English, and, other times, language learning is just an integrated part of other fun-filled camp activities. Either way, this could be a great opportunity to expand your TEFL teaching experience, and, while these are often only short-term contracts, many positions offer connections to more permanent positions in local schools or businesses.
- Coach at a Sports Camp: If you’re looking to relive your high school glory days in sports or just have a love for the game, consider working at a sports camp of some sort abroad this year. For some more advanced level camps, you may require some previous coaching experience, but many camps are just looking for passionate individuals who are good with kids and are capable of leading some games to keep them physically active. This may be one of the more high-energy options, but it still provides valuable teaching and leading experience that future employers crave.
- Work at an Arts/Music Camp: If you’re more into the arts, consider working at an art or music camp. If you’re interested in working with the creative side of campers, this could be a great way to combine your passions with the enthusiasm on young kids or teenagers. While the level of competence in the particular subject area may be a factor for higher-level camps, others are just looking for people to engage campers in some lively arts and crafts. For some of these positions, the application has a section that has you rate your level of interest and/or skills in various areas of arts and music that you may be willing to bring to the table
- Volunteer at a Camp: While this may take the whole “job” part out of it, many programs offer volunteer opportunities at camps are an alternative. While this option may not be the one for everybody, many of these programs are set up the same way, except they typically only offer room and board, or a small living stipend. These types of camp opportunities are more common in less prosperous regions of the world, but they do exist everywhere. They also can be available in any of the forms mentioned, so it’s not limited to people with a specific skill set. While you’re not likely to get rich off of any camp job, if you’re looking more for an opportunity to serve and give back, rather than to cash in on a paycheck, this may be an option for you.
While there are no set guidelines to finding your specific dream camp job, there are a lot of common factors to consider before you venture off into the wonderful world of camp life.
Where and When to Start Looking
While it definitely depends on the specific camps, many camps start seeking counselors months in advance. For example, a lot of summer camps start looking for applications at the very beginning of the year. Although this is not always the case, your best bet is to start looking early to keep your options open. Especially for camp jobs abroad, working out all of the logistics with new hires can take some time. If you’re going to be employed by a camp in a different country, you may need a work visa.
This can be particularly difficult in places like Western Europe where applicants from the European Union (EU) already have this necessary qualification. So you want to make sure you have enough time to find a camp that is not only willing to hire from outside of the country or region, but one that will also hopefully be willing and able to help you obtain your necessary paperwork such as background checks or visas. Even if all goes smoothly, getting a work or internship visa for some countries has the potential to take from about a week up to a month or more, if complications arise.
On a related note, different camps have different prerequisites for their staff members that should factor in to your “when” to start looking. If you want to go to a camp to teach English, you may be required to have TEFL certification prior to your arrival, which could also potentially take upwards of a couple months as they usually require around 120 hours of training.
If you’re working at an outdoor camp, perhaps you’ll need some sort of lifeguard training or first aid experience when you show up to camp. These things take time. The more proactive you are when seeking a camp job, not only the more likely that you’ll get one, but the more likely that you’ll have your affairs in order by the time they’ll need you.
There is a variety of ways to find camp jobs, largely depending on what type of gig you’re seeking. There are many companies that seek applicants for prearranged packages across the world. Companies like CCUSA, for example, have a variety of summer camp positions available all over the world and help successful applicants acquire the required visa.
If you’re looking for something a bit more specific, teaching English for example, there are lots of websites like Dave’s ESL Cafe that are general job boards for certain types of positions or in particular regions of the world, but also include camp jobs. If you’re looking for jobs in a specific country, looking at general classified job websites for that country, specifically under the seasonal employment category, is a great place to start.
If you know exactly the kind of camp you’re looking to work in, say a camp for learning Mandarin just search for a program as if you were going to be a camper and then find the employment section on their website.
While most camp jobs tend to be seasonal, if you’re planning on going south of the equator, keep in mind that seasons are flipped down there and that school breaks are different all over the world. That means that, depending on where you want to go, it’s a good idea to do some research about the education system in that region and when jobs will be opening up. It may also give you a much better idea about what type of camps are even run around there. That being said, camps that run during the school year or over winter breaks do exist; they may just be set up a bit differently.
Another important factor to consider when picking your country is the native language of that country. Also consider the main purpose of the particular camps when it comes to language. If you’re looking to head to South America to get involved in some local children’s programs, there maybe be a requirement to be proficient in Spanish. However, if you’re going to a camp that caters to international campers or has an English language-learning component, you may be just fine only speaking English.
Even if the camp’s mission is not to teach English, per say, it is not uncommon for some camps to have English as the medium of instruction for a variety of reasons. Of course, getting around your chosen country may present some obstacles, but many camps that are willing to hire native English speakers from abroad take that into account when making arrangements for their staff. That said, knowing or learning some of the regional language before you go is nonetheless both a good selling point for yourself and useful in that it will inevitably make your life easier.
As mentioned above, the exact timeline for a camp position is largely contingent on the individual camp. Typically, though, a formal application with references should be submitted a couple of months prior to the camp start date. If all goes well, an interview will follow. If you apply directly to a specific camp, this process is usually going to be a bit more streamlined. If you choose to go through an agency that has several camps in different locations, or even different countries, it may take longer. Depending on the program, you may choose you specific camp in a specific city abroad from the very first part of the application. Other times, you may not actually be assigned to a specific camp or city until after you’ve already been accepted.
Either prior to or after interviews, many camps will contact references and begin to make sure you have the necessary paperwork for employment. This may include things like copies of your passport, proof of required certification (if applicable), and possibly proof of health insurance, a driver’s license, a diploma, a background check, etc. Interviews often take place over the phone or on Skype, and may also lead to another set of interviews. Everything completely depends on the specific camp and/or company.
While work permits are oftentimes required for positions of this nature, this is not always the case.Camp Europe, for example, technically employs “interns,” which warrants a different process. These are things that camps usually assist their staff in figuring out, but they most often come after being offered a position. That being said, when looking for a position, make sure in advance that it’s at a place that is open to citizens from your home country, be it for language or legal reasons, etc.
On a whole, most programs have fairly similar basic requirements for applicants. The minimum age is most often 18 years old with at least a high school diploma. Interviews and references are very common for positions like this, especially since they’re positions involving children. If, as mentioned earlier, you’re looking into a specific type of camp position, such as teaching English to campers, then you may require TEFL certification either prior to applying or prior to arriving on site.Most positions require a visa of some sort, but be sure to look into exactly what that entails well in advance. When factoring in visa information to your timeline for a place like New Zealand, you many require a "working holiday visa,” and their government provides a decision or at least a notification within about two weeks. Many European nations, such as France, require a “work permit” and also have a two to three week turn around.
It’s important to note that the type of visa is contingent on your nationality, the length of your stay, and the specific position. While many of the camps offer assistance in obtaining the visa, almost all countries require that you have the right visa before you enter their country, as opposed to switching visa types upon arrival. That means that you can’t usually enter a country on a tourist visa and then apply for a work visa from within.