Camp USA Stories: Annie’s Life-Changing Summer

We caught up with Annie Phelan, who worked as a Camp Counsellor last year on USIT’s Camp USA programme. She’s here to tell you everything you’ve wanted to know about it. Take it away Annie!

In the early hours of the morning, I packed my bags into the car and drove to Dublin airport from my home in Carlow to meet my best friend Suzanne. We both were about to set out on our individual camp experiences. I was placed in a camp in Leif Ericson Day Camp in  South Dakota and Suzanne was placed in a Camp Kimaji in Minnesota. After we both said our goodbyes to our parents we then had to say goodbye to each other as we went our separate ways to start this epic journey of a lifetime.

Camp Leif Ericson USA

Broadening My Horizons at Camp USA

I was travelling to Atlanta Georgia and then onto Sioux Falls. I was going to a day camp (not your traditional camp). I was placed with 2 different host families for the time that I worked at Camp. We arrived at camp every morning at about 08:30 am. The campers were collected every day by counsellors and brought to camp and then at about 4 pm, they were brought back home.

The first week at camp was an orientation week where everyone would learn the run of camp and get trained in on how to do different activities. These included rock climbing, boating, Gaga ball and we also learned fun games to play and songs to sing with the campers during some downtime. This was where the counsellors got to know one another and where everyone became really good friends and comfortable around each other. This was vital as there was plenty of times at camp when you acted out of character for the kids so it’s important that you put yourself out there 100% and don’t care about how silly you look. The sillier the better! I think a common thing about camp life are skits. So skits are basically when the counsellors put on a little 5-minute show for the kids and it’s usually just something fun and playful.

Camp counsellor in Camp Leif Ericson

At the end of the day, everyone is there for the kids so once they are having fun the rest doesn’t really matter. I was the only counsellor at camp not from Sioux Falls so I definitely stood out. A thick Irish accent is always bound to turn heads.

Once orientation week was over the next week was when the kids arrived. Every session was 2 weeks long and had about 12-15 kids to a group. I was given 8-9-year-old girl groups. Every day before the kids arrived the counsellors would meet for a staff meeting where the directors would keep us up to date with everything and if we needed to know anything we were told then and there. We would then go to meet our kids in the big field where they would get off the buses. Once we had them all we would make our way to what was called ‘chapel’. This was a roll call for the kids to make sure everyone was accounted for.

Kids of Camp Leif Ericson

Daily Life at Camp USA

The day was usually split up into three parts; two activities in the morning, lunch, and then three activities after lunch. We would also have ‘snack’ time which was followed by three more activities. The last activity was always the campers’ choice. They got to choose what they wanted to do. On-site we had a river so the kids went boating. We also had a pet farm that had goats, hens, cows, chickens and lots of horses so the kids could go horse riding too. There was a high ropes course that was used mainly by older kids. Every session we would go off-site to a lake where the kids would go kayaking and play lake games. We would also bring them to a water park for one day per session. Even though these days were off-site and away from camp, you still had the responsibility of looking after the kids. It was nice to switch things up and get away from camp!

Camp Life at Camp Leif Ericson

Sleeping Under the Stars

Because we were a day camp the kids did not get to stay overnight every night, so every second Thursday we had overnight stays. As they were only once per session they were very special and pretty amazing. The kids would get so excited about this! We would sleep outside under the stars in sleeping bags and every hour the counsellors would take shifts and stay up to check up on all the kids.

Camp USA Camp Fire

That is the day to day run of things at camp. Because we finished at 4 pm every day the counsellors would often get food together after camp, or something like that. Every 2 weeks there were staff nights which were so much fun and a great way to experience an American tradition. After that, we would often get ice cream and just chill out somewhere nice.

Daily life at Camp Leif Ericson

I Had the Time of My Life. . .

On my last night, I was given the most amazing gift from everyone. It was a paddle that was hand-painted by someone at camp and signed on the back by everyone. As Justin Timberlake requested, I cried a river on my last day and honestly, I left part of myself there. I cannot express how much this experience has changed me as a person and I would highly recommend everyone to do it! You don’t have to be outgoing, you don’t have to have travelled before, you don’t need a degree in working with kids. All you need is an open mind and a good attitude, those two things will ensure you will have the time of your life!

Camp evenings together at Camp Leif Ericson

After camp, I met back up with my bestie, Suzanne. We travelled to Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. Although these places were lovely and I’m delighted I got to go to them but I would sooner go back to camp for 2 more weeks.  I came home with so much and I have made friends for life.

Camp USA counsellors

Camp Actually Changed My Life

I applied for Camp USA never expecting it to actually happen. The only travel experience I had was a weekend away in Manchester, I had never travelled alone before and I had never been away from home longer than a week! Yet, here I was flying halfway across the world on my own, to a place where it seemed the Internet didn’t even know about, and to two host families that I didn’t know. All that said, I absolutely loved every second of this entire journey. The paperwork and interviews are so worth it for the experience you get and the friends you make. I speak on a daily basis to my camp friends and I have now started my application for next summer!

Camp Leif Ericson USA with USIT

As I said I was not well travelled at all, so a massive comfort came from the team at USIT. They were always there to help me if anything went wrong. Thankfully nothing did, but considering how lovely they were during the application process I knew that if anything went wrong I had someone to help me out.

Camp Leif Ericson parklands

If you are considering doing this, please just go and do it. It will be so worth it, and you have got nothing to lose! I can not wait to go back next summer.

Hammock at Camp Leif Ericson

If you’re interested in applying for Camp USA for Summer 2020, then get in touch with the Camp team at USIT. You can do this by;

  • Email –
  • Phone – 01 602 1808
  • Website –
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