The “Camp America” program is a great opportunity to learn the language, learn about American culture, earn money, and visit the United States. How do I participate?
Camp America is, next to Work and Travel, the most popular and well-known summer job program for students in the USA. Although it offers a narrower choice when it comes to the place of employment, it beats Work and Travel in many respects. One of the key advantages is the much lower (and with interest!) Cost of participation in the program. What else is worth knowing about it?
In the article below, you can read, among others:
- what is a “Camp America” summer job (and how long does it take),
- whether any experience is required from the participants of “Camp America”,
- what conditions must be met to qualify for “Camp America”,
- why is it worth going to the States for “Camp America”,
- how many days off the program participant has,
- how much can you earn by taking part in “Camp America”,
- how much does it cost to participate in “Camp America” (and why so little),
- what’s included – and what has to be paid for separately,
- what is recruitment to the “Camp America” program,
- what questions appear in the registration form – and what files should be attached to it,
- what documents are required for recruitment to Camp America,
- what an interview is about,
- what kind of visa should a Camp America participant obtain,
- is it possible to go to “Camp America” under the Visa Waiver Program,
- under what conditions can you travel under “Camp America”,
- what is a “grace period”.
In the beginning, it is worth correcting. Well, while Camp America is generally considered a summer job program, it is actually a cultural exchange program. Hence, to a large extent, there are so many benefits for the participants with a relatively little financial contribution on their part. The organizer of the program, the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS), obtains some funds from government agencies and sponsors who want young foreigners to learn about the American way of life. One of the best ways to do this is to go to the USA.
A similar idea motivates, for example, the “Au Pair” program, which consists of the fact that a participant in it lives with an American family for a year. However, not everyone wants or can afford to leave Poland for such a long time – e.g., due to the studies undertaken. In such a situation, the ideal solution is to participate in the “Work and Travel” program described by us separately, or in “Camp America”.
In short, each of them consists in the fact that during the summer holidays, students go to the United States to work most of the time and thus earn for the last month of their stay in the USA, when they only travel around that country. The rules for “Camp America” are a bit clearer, however, and participation in the program may therefore be easier.
Participating students are employed in a holiday center whose organization resembles Polish summer camps. Regarding the nature of the work to be undertaken there, there are basically three options to choose from.
This variant is popular because it does not require any special qualifications or experience. The participant joins the ranks of the support staff, which usually means doing simple physical work like:
- help in preparing and serving meals,
- operating the dishwasher,
- keeping order,
- laundry work,
- lawn mowing.
People who speak English more efficiently can also count on employment, for example, in a shop or a secretary’s office.
More responsible and engaging tasks are waiting for people who decide on the variant entitled “Counselor”. It involves working with children and youth – so it is worth having some experience in this area. Especially if someone were to work as a group tutor accompanying the kids most of the time. However, it is also possible to become an assistant or Specialist Counselor, i.e. a class instructor conducting individual classes, e.g., in swimming, climbing, gymnastics, or photography – then it is enough to have competence in selected areas.
Special Needs Counselor
The most demanding variant, but also the most satisfying one. Work is about caring for people with disabilities (mentally or physically), helping them, and organizing their time so that they too can have a wonderful holiday. Experience is not a requirement here – participation in the program is rather a great way to get it, if you want to deal with, for example, rehabilitation or special education in the future. People who choose this option should be naturally endowed with a lot of patience and positive energy.
Who Can Participate in “Camp America”
All participants in “Camp America” must meet the following conditions:
- be 18 years or older;
- be a university or post-secondary student – active, i.e., not suspended, not on dean’s leave, etc .;
- use English – in the case of “Campower” at least communicative (A2 level), slightly better in the case of “Special Needs Counselor” (B2, around the FCE exam), and the case of the “Counselor” option at a level not lower than “Upper-Intermediate” (C1, CAE area);
- to be able to go to the US between May 25 and June 25 (some courses start as early as May 1) and work there for at least 9 weeks after arriving – so it’s best to pass all exams in no time; as the experience of many program participants shows, it is absolutely possible!
Candidates should also demonstrate features such as independence, persistence, a positive attitude, openness to other people and new experiences, diligence, and good physical condition.
It is also good to be able to document some experience, even if it is not required because it increases the chances of participation in the program, for which – it should be noted – there are always more applicants than the number of places provided.
Benefits of participating in “Camp America”
It is definitely worth taking part, if only for the following benefits:
- increasing your English language skills – by immersing yourself in it for several weeks thanks to conversations with both native speakers and other program participants from all over the world;
- an opportunity to make international friends and acquaintances;
- an opportunity to broaden your horizons and learn more about American culture and lifestyle;
- gaining professional experience and an interesting entry in the CV;
- often also the possibility of using the resort’s infrastructure in free time – e.g. swimming pool, gym or sports equipment – and even cars to explore the area on days off (there are at least 6 of them in 9 weeks);
- distinguished persons may be offered a return to the same “camp” in a year – in a higher position (e.g., in a coordinating or even managerial position) and for better remuneration;
- being able to travel for a month in the US (and surrounding countries) with the money earned.
“Camp America” - How Much Can I Earn
The issue of remuneration for work under the “Camp America” program deserves a separate discussion. Unlike, for example, “Work and Travel”, the minimum amount of this remuneration is guaranteed and known from the very beginning. It depends primarily on the chosen variant and the age of the participant. This is best illustrated in the table below.
|Work type/age of the participant||18 years||19-20 years||over 21|
|Advandced Skill Counselor (certified lifeguard)||$850||$950||$1,050|
|Special Needs Counselor||$850||$950||$1,050|
|Campower (again, in a new “camp”)||$1,300||$1,300||$1,300|
|Counselor (again, in a new “camp”)||$1,100||$1,100||$1,100|
Payment is usually made on the last working day – after 9 weeks or after 10 weeks in the case of the so-called day camps, where the days off are every weekend – and is given in cash, or the form of a payment card with funds in an appropriate amount (transfer to the program participant’s account is not an option). Theoretically, it is possible to agree with the director of a specific center to receive remuneration in several previous installments, but in practice, there is hardly any need to do so as participants are also guaranteed free accommodation and meals on-site.
The above-mentioned amounts – and often tips and bonuses – are therefore entirely at the disposal of the people participating in the program. Almost. There are still taxes to be deducted in the United States (several to several dollars, which can be recovered after returning based on the W-2 form issued by “camp”) and in Poland. Even after taking them into account, it is clear that you can earn much more than you initially need to invest.
How much does it cost to participate in “Camp America”
At the moment, i.e. at the beginning of 2020, the fee for participation in the program is PLN 2655 (i.e., less than $700). It is also divided into three installments:
- PLN 299 for processing the application and the interview – this amount is refundable if the application is rejected,
- PLN 399 for finding a “camp” interested in employing a specific person – if it fails, the money will also be returned,
- PLN 1,957 – paid when the departure is sure.
The sums are not too high, especially considering what is included in the price :
- assistance with the formalities necessary to obtain a US visa;
- medical insurance – covering US treatment costs of up to $500,000 ($500 for dental intervention) and for both working and visiting;
- return flight tickets and airport charges – if the participant starts work on June 25 at the latest;
- pick-up from the airport on arrival in the US, meals and accommodation at the hotel where the introductory training takes place (especially important for those who are to look after children and vulnerable people), and transport to the “camp”;
- Access to the helpline where you can get 24/7 support and answer any questions that may arise during the program.
You have to pay separately for:
- travel to the interview and the airport in Poland,
possible transport to Warsaw to obtain a visa to the USA,
- the visa itself (the equivalent of $160, additionally about PLN 30 for sending a passport with a visa to the address provided),
- obtaining a certificate of clean criminal record (about PLN 30, and in the case of a “camp” in Pennsylvania, additionally about PLN 180),
- obtaining the necessary medical certificates and vaccinations,
- transfer to the airport in New York after work and travel – although participants of “Camp America” can count on considerable discounts here,
- additional insurance – e.g., for luggage (approx. PLN 455) or in connection with a chronic disease (approx. PLN 145),
- the difference in the price of the air ticket, if it increases after paying the third installment (there were no such increases in 2015-19), as well as changing the date of the return ticket (from $225) or changing the airport in Poland (by default it is Chopin Airport in Warsaw).
Applying to the program in advance – that is, for example already in October – you can often count on a discount as part of the “early bird” promotion. If in the meantime it turns out that the departure cannot be completed due to documented random causes, the money will be refunded.
How to participate in “Camp America”
Step 1 – registration
Unlike other exchange programs such as Au Pair programs, with “Camp America” you work with the organizer from start to finish, without the use of various agencies. This includes this is why the whole procedure is so transparent and safe – over 50 years of AIFS activity in this field, well over 1.2 million students have participated in the program!
The American Institute of International Studies has two headquarters: in Stamford, Connecticut, near New York, and London. It is the London office that recruits candidates, but it has numerous representatives in Poland, called consultants. Importantly, each consultant once participated in the program. So you can ask him about literally everything.
There you will find an electronic form with questions, among others about your personal and contact details, studies, interests, and reasons why you want to become a Camp America participant. After giving the answer and consent to the processing of personal data, you will go to the screen of choosing a consultant and the date of the meeting in your hometown or in the town where you study. Then you will be redirected to the British subpage, where detailed questions will be asked about:
- student status – to make sure you are eligible to participate in the program and obtain a visa formally;
- participation option – if you do not know yet whether you prefer the “Campower” or “Counselor” option, select both; the consultant will certainly facilitate this decision soon;
- any previous stays in the USA based on a J-1 visa;
- the earliest possible date of departure to the States – this is very important information from the point of view of the camp management; if you report too early to know how your exams will be arranged in the summer session, mark the area around June 25 (this is usually a safe choice: most participants have no problem with passing all the subjects so far, especially as lecturers often go hand in hand, when it comes to setting “kindergartens”, hearing about the willingness to travel as part of an international exchange).
Step 2 – CV preparation
After clicking the “CREATE APPLICATION” button, the system will redirect you to the next form. By filling in its subsequent fields, you will create a kind of electronic CV that will be considered by both British recruiters and directors of American holiday resorts. Your consultant will also review it, and you will need to select it again from the drop-down list at this stage.
The form should be completed in English, not using Polish characters in proper names, and experience, skills, and interests in each of the indicated areas should be described in at least 8 sentences, providing specific information. To minimize the risk of losing some of the content entered as a result of system suspension or disconnection from the Internet, it is worth preparing it in a text file and then pastes it into the designated online fields.
Also, to the form must be uploaded various types of attachments :
- certificates or diplomas – if you have them; they can be both scans in PDF format and good quality photos taken with the phone (documents in Polish should be translated into English on a separate sheet, keeping the original layout);
- photos – one portrait and at least two depicting you at work or realizing the passions or abilities you have mentioned (e.g., while practicing a specific sport),
- short movie – preferably in MP4 format; your abilities or interests should also appear here, but based on such a film-business card, the directors of “Camps” or recruiters also have a chance to get to know your personality a bit (remember that they are looking for cheerful, energetic and motivated people) and, of course, knowledge of English;
- references – from at least two different people, such as your employer, supervisor, teacher, or trainer (it cannot be, for example, a colleague, or rather not parents), who has known you for at least half a year (or shorter if you have frequent contact, e.g., 4-5 times a week). References can be made in Polish and translated into English by you. Those prepared in paper form may be based on the template available on the website www.campamerica.pl, but do not have to. They should instead contain information about the length of service and the nature of your relationship with the person issuing them, describe you and your skills, and be signed or stamped. It is also possible to issue references online: for this purpose, provide an e-mail address to the person who will prepare them, who will receive a message with a link to a special form;
- criminal record – you can get it online if you have a so-called trusted profile (more information can be found here);
- participation agreement – printed in duplicate, signed, and scanned (or photographed); its template in PDF format can be downloaded from the website;
- color copy of passport (photo page) and student ID.
Do not worry if you do not have all the required documents at the time of filling in the form – the application can be completed within 14 days of meeting the consultant. You can schedule the interview after paying the first part of the fee (via the system that will redirect you to the payment page).
Step 3 – “interview”
The very meeting with a consultant is also called an “interview”. You have to appear in person, bringing originals and copies of documents that will be certified by a consultant based on the originals (only the original certificate of good conduct will be kept, and at the visa application stage also the passport and DS-2019 form – see below).
In the interview, personally introduce yourself and your experiences or interests, as well as the degree of English communication in which most of the interview takes place. It is also an opportunity to ask the consultant any questions that bother you and possibly improve the application – or at least get tips on this topic. Based on this, you then have 7 days to amend the online form and 14 days to post the missing documents to AIFS.
Step 4 – searching for “camp”
After accepting the complete application – and paying the next part of the fee – a procedure starts looking for a “camp” that will want you to work based on your skills and availability, as well as your overall presentation. The search is done by AIFS employees, you are just waiting for a specific offer – it usually takes 8-12 weeks. You can track the status of the case after logging in to your account (it is created after applying) at https://mycampamerica.com.
If for some reason you are not satisfied with the “camp” proposed by AIFS – for example, because it has not very good reviews or you prefer to go to another state – you can resign from such an offer. Then the search for another one will begin. However, if they fail, the fees you have paid so far will not be refunded.
Step 5 – getting a visa
Giving you a place in a specific “camp” (the so-called placement) and paying the last part of the fee starts the process of booking air tickets and applying for a visa to the USA. It is precisely a J-1 visa, i.e., a document intended for people participating in international exchange programs. You can read more about it in the article “Visa to the US for students – step by step”.
Here it is worth mentioning only a few of the most important information relevant to “Camp America”. Well, the J-1 visa allows students to take up holiday work in the United States, and to obtain this document, you need:
- a valid passport,
- photo meeting the requirements for visa photography,
- form DS-2019 – it will be provided by AIFS,
- program participant form – as above,
- completed visa application – electronic DS-160 form,
- proof of payment of the visa fee – $160.
AIFS will take care of all the necessary formalities, so in practice, it hardly happens that the visa is not granted (it may happen, e.g. if the applicant has been refused entry into the USA in the past ).
A visit to the United States
The document obtained at the embassy is not really a visa yet, but a so-called visa promise, based on which you can only apply to cross the American border. You will receive the appropriate visa in the form of a passport stamp from the officers stationed there. The visa will be valid until the last working day indicated on the DS-2019 form.
However, its holder is entitled to the so-called grace period, which is 30 days that can be spent traveling in the USA. But beware: as a student, you must return to Poland before the start of the new academic year on October 1st. So if you finish work on September 12, for example, you only have 18 days left to travel, not 30 days.
The J-1 visa cannot be extended. On the other hand, it may expire prematurely as a result of a violation of the provisions of the program, that is, for example, in the event of an arbitrary departure from the “camp” (e.g., because you do not like it there). The DS-2019 form, without which the visa is invalid, ceases to apply. So remember to look after the form in the same way as your passport – both documents should be presented together at the border.
Camp America Travel Conditions
Interestingly, program participants working as “Campower” and “Counselor” receive visas of various subcategories. In the first case, it is a document such as “Summer Work and Travel”, the holder of which may, during the “grace period”, leave the USA for a while – for example to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean – and return to the States before finally returning to Poland from there. . In the case of a “Camp Counselor” visa, however, this is not possible: leaving the USA will automatically cancel the remaining “grace period”.
There is, however, a solution to this problem. Well, from November 2019, Poles are allowed to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). For this purpose, they only need to obtain an ESTA authorization valid for 2 years, which we wrote about in the article “ESTA – registration of travel to the USA”. This authorization does not authorize you to work in the United States, so you still need a J-1 visa to participate in Camp America. After the expiry of the “grace period”, it is possible to return to the USA based on authorization in ESTA – regardless of the role in which the participant of “Camp America” previously worked in this country.