The other day I heard a snippet of conversation between two campers talking about their friends. One girl explained, “I have friends at school, but my friends here at Rockbrook are my ‘forever friends.'” What a great way to put it! Friends made at camp are exactly that— so strong, so close, so meaningful, they last. It’s pretty clear. The people here at Rockbrook aren’t just companions or playmates; they’re not simply other girls assigned to your team, or brief acquaintances that happen to eat meals with you in the dining hall. Instead there’s a deepness to many of the friendships formed at camp, an emotional quality that makes relationships here more genuine and powerful.
Why camp friends are forever friends is an interesting question. What is it about summer camp that makes a difference when is comes to forming friendships? My first thought is that we make good friends at camp by virtue of spending so much time together. When you share all your meals, spend all your free time, and do so much together with the same small group of people, you are bound to grow closer. Consistent shared experience simply brings people together. And this togetherness of camp is almost inescapable considering the sleeping cabins holding 10 or more people (no private rooms here!), the lack of electronic devices (which are inherently isolating), and the collaborative character of all our camp activities. There can be moments of solitude for everyone at camp, but generally time at camp is a collective life that keeps us inter-acting with each other throughout the day. This makes good sense, by the way, if having fun is one of the goals of camp. After all, doing something with others is clearly more fun than doing it alone, whether it’s putting on a silly costume, paddling a whitewater raft, or eating a meal.
While this is a start, I suspect there’s more to understanding what drives camp friendships than simply being together and sharing core experiences. Perhaps more importantly, camp life also includes a set of ideals and values, a culture, that guides how we treat each other as a community doing things together. At Rockbrook, this camp culture starts with kindness and generosity. It respects and values everyone, creating enthusiasm and building genuine encouragement. Beginning with the directors, embodied by the staff members, and sustained by Rockbrook’s many traditions, there is a feeling here of warmth and acceptance where every girl is appreciated and supported. This culture makes it easy to cooperate instead of compete, to pitch in rather than check out, and to inspire more than criticize. The Rockbrook camp culture, quite intentionally, brings out these best qualities in people, campers and staff alike, making it a special place oddly different from what’s typically valued in other circles.
This, then, is the secret sauce. The nature of this culture, all of its practiced ideals, provides girls the freedom to explore who they really are, to develop the character and spirit of their “authentic selves.” In this way, camp empowers girls to trust themselves. Free of social judgment, camp life helps awaken confidence, giving girls the power to overcome their own assumptions about who they should be. I believe stripping away these assumptions and being genuine is what makes forever friendships possible. It feels good (“What a relief!”) to be true to yourself too, to be welcomed and nurtured by a real community. No posing needed. Instead, as camp teaches us to be brave personally, it establishes the basis for the most rewarding form of friendship.
So while we’re doing so much together at camp— riding, climbing, weaving, shooting, and playing, for example —we’re discovering that our true selves make the best friends, that being kind makes us happy, and being together like this is always more fun.