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Be prepared to have the best summer of your life: Conor's story

*This post originally appeared on the CIEE Exchange Programs blog

By Conor O'Rourke, CIEE Camp Exchange USA 2017 participant

“Travelling – it leaves you speechless, then makes you a storyteller” - Ibn Battuta

Hey! My name is Conor O’Rourke, I’m 21 and from Wiltshire, England. I am currently studying Sport Development at Cardiff Metropolitan University in my third year! This is the story of my summer adventure working at Camp Vega in Fayette, Maine.

Camp sunset
Echo Lake at sundown – a spectacular sunset was just part of the schedule at Vega


Six months on from my summer adventure and I am still sharing my stories with anyone who will listen! I’m thrilled that I get to tell some more in this blog! It all started by making a decision, a decision that I nearly didn’t make but a decision that I would now make over and over again.

Picture this: It’s a cold and wet Thursday in January. I was still at home with my family for Christmas but had a lot of work for University. For the past few weeks, my mum had been trying to get me to sign up to the BUNAC Summer Camp USA program. At first, I refused to even look at the website! I didn’t think I was ready to commit to a whole summer away from friends and family. It was a risk in my eyes and I was sure that it wasn’t for me. But I decided to take a look at the BUNAC website and I found a list of Camps that would be present at the recruitment fair in London. For 6 years I had been working at my local tennis club back home in Wiltshire. I started playing tennis at the age of eight and fell in love with the sport, I couldn’t stop the urge to be out on the court! It was no surprise then, that when I was offered a volunteering role by the Head Coach at the club I immediately accepted!

Three years into my coaching role at the club I had completed my Level 1 and 2 Lawn Tennis Association Coaching qualifications. This meant that I could take control of my own sessions, which included planning and coaching three to four sessions per week. This was amazing experience but taking my coaching philosophy stateside would be just unbelievable! Looking on the website, I was happy to see so many tennis positions available! I scrolled down the list and found Camp Vega. Instantly, I clicked on the link and it took me to their homepage, I was greeted with: “Be prepared to have the best summer of your life”. I then watched their promotional video and that was it, my heart was set on Vega. Ten minutes later and I was doing my research and preparing my application for the recruitment fair.

Camp Vega
The gates to my summer home – I’d leave here a more complete person


From a young age I had always dreamed of travelling to America. My dad definitely influenced me from early on. We used to love watching Westerns when I was a kid, ‘How the West Was Won’ with John Wayne was our favourite! The ambition to travel stateside was always there, although I was slightly disappointed to see that there were no ‘Cowboy Ranch Camps’ available like there were in the movies! That being said, I will never forget the feeling of leaving the recruitment fair with a job at Camp Vega! I wore the biggest smile for the rest of the day and I could not wait to fly out to America!

I will never forget the day I arrived at camp. Having watched the Vega videos at least 16 times I thought I knew what to expect. I was way off. The lake was so much clearer, the trees were taller and the road was much bumpier than I imagined! When travelling down that stunning lakeside road, never did I think that I would leave here a different person: more complete, more confident, more of the person I wanted to be. From the beginning we were made to feel so welcome, smiling seemed to be a part of the uniform here. You couldn’t help but smile, it was infectious! The campgrounds must have had something to do with it because they were just spectacular. Situated on Echo Lake, Camp Vega had it all! Waking up to the spectacular sunrise and going to sleep under the glistening stars, it became part of the daily routine. A daily routine that I love and miss so much!

IMG_0133
The view from the Vega shoreline over Echo Lake


My job role at Camp Vega was with the tennis team. Being a part-time coach back at home, I had plenty of experience going into the summer, but one of the things that I was most looking forward too was the opportunity to work with coaches from across the world with different cultures, languages and coaching philosophies! It was a challenge that I was so ready to tackle. Luckily for me, Camp Vega has a large International field of staff. For example, the tennis team was made up of staff from Mexico, Brazil, Chile, The Netherlands, America and Ireland! So it’s safe to say that I had an amazing opportunity to work and develop my coaching with the help of everyone’s personal experiences from their cultures. Being able to work with these people who are now my friends is also a great networking opportunity! I am still in contact with a lot of the team and we are able to keep up with each other’s achievements throughout the year!

Manitou Roommates
Manitou Left Roommates


Participating on the Camp Exchange USA Program has given me so many opportunities that I am so grateful for. My time at Vega was only 59 days. 59 days, that’s all I got, in the most beautiful place in the world. But in those days I was swimming in Echo Lake, tanning on the tennis courts and stargazing under the most spectacular stars I have ever seen! All those memories wouldn’t be the same without the people I spent them with. I made friends this summer that I will keep forever. With these friends, the miles between us don’t matter, we have a special bond, a bond that can’t be broken. We were all opposites, our upbringings, beliefs and accents were different. Yet, one thing brought us together, Vega. We all spent every day together and on days off we went on new adventures, we were free! I will always be thankful for their friendship and I will hold it close to my heart forever.

Postcard memories
 “Postcard memories only picture of how you are in one place at a time” (Drew Holcomb)


I fell in love with America, the people, the way of life and the endless exposure to so many different cultures. Maine will forever be a haven for me, the crystal lakes, green pines and lobster roles, it was all part of my summer experience! Without the Camp Exchange USA program, my summer adventure just wouldn’t be possible! This program has allowed me to meet my friends from all over the world. Camps like Vega depend on staff from all over the world to make up their culturally diverse staff. Believe me, I am so grateful for the opportunity I have had to work abroad, I have gained many work and life skills from my experience. But perhaps more importantly, I have had a more personal reflection. I am more confident that I can approach any new challenge knowing that a positive outcome is always possible and that meeting new people is a privilege and any opportunity to do so should be taken because each person can offer something unique that will most likely change you for the better. Without this program, I wouldn’t have been exposed to this “extraordinary world”. I hope that all the opportunities that this program can currently offer will continue because it’s changed my life for the better and it will continue to do so for thousands of people like me.

When I arrived back home, I contacted BUNAC to share my amazing summer with them! I was asked to attend a Camp Fair in Cardiff to share my summer experiences with potential Summer Camp USA applicants! I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to speak to people who were in my shoes this year, being able to share my summer experiences with them was an amazing opportunity. Being an applicant, you want to be told that taking that risk of travelling to a different place, new cultures, different languages and new people is the right decision for you. At the end of the day it’s up to you. It’s your decision, it’s your summer it’s your lifetime memories! Believe me, take that decision for yourself because it’ll be the best decision you ever make. The countdown is on to return and I cannot wait to carry more stories with me back home!

IMG_6566
“It’s goodnight and not goodbye”



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