I dropped off our twelve-year old at school several days ago, loaded with a sleeping bag and luggage. He was heading off to camp, four days at a beach location two hours from Melbourne. In addition to sharing a bunk house with a bunch of fellow Year Sevens, he is spending his time swimming, deep-sea fishing, snorkeling, hiking and generally not missing us at all.
Going to school camp is an iconic Aussie experience. Even our youngest has spent one night sleeping at the school in an effort to “get them ready for camp.” Every year, Australian school kids head off with their mates and their teachers, returning a few days later, bleary with sleep-deprivation but full of stories that will be excessively retold during the remainder of the school year. Phones are prohibited, so save for an emergency, there is no contact while they are gone.
Last year, our oldest’s camp experience included horseback riding, an activity which did cause low levels of consternation among some parents.
“You’re American- your son has probably ridden a thousand times,” said one nervous parent to me.
Apparently, growing up in America is like growing up in a Western movie.
I love the concept of the school camp. It’s such a prevalent part of the education system here- one that breeds independence and builds friendship. In contrast, I have been to just one school camp in my lifetime, in seventh grade.
I remember very few details about Camp Laredo Taft- it was located along the Mississippi River, the dense forest surrounding the camp made perfect hiding places for jumping out to scare your friends, and it was there that I learned that chewing Wint-o-Green Life Savers at night produced sparks in our mouth.
Life changing stuff.
It’s funny how many Australians assume that I have been to camp- summer camp. Based on Hollywood movies, legions of American kids are shipped off to summer camp for weeks at a time- experiences that either provide the backdrop for a coming of age, sexual experience, or produce post-traumatic stress disorder with an emphasis on chainsaws and hockey masks.
I hate to bust the myth wide-open, but I never knew anyone who went away to summer camp as a child.
As for my son, I expect to pick him up when he returns from camp- sun-kissed, happy and exhausted. I expect to hear stories of adventure and laughter, and some mischief-making as well.
This school camp thing Australia has going- it’s not half bad.