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Gap Year Internship

“I can guarantee you will become a better version of yourself and you will have a blast doing so.” -Noah Rifkin, 2018 Gap Year Intern

Noah Rifkin spent six months of his gap-year at YMCA Camp Chingachgook. Here’s a snapshot of his experience in his own words:

For the past six months, I’ve spent my time at Camp Chingachgook, pronounced (CHIN-JA-GOOK) in Lake George, New York. I’ve had an amazing time, and I’ve grown and learned so much. I want to talk a little bit about that process.

I graduated high school in June of 2017, but I knew long before then that I didn’t want to go directly to college. School had worn me out, and I wanted to feel excited to learn. I thought the best way to do that was to take some time off of school before coming back. I had a job at a restaurant in Seattle where I grew up, nothing glamorous but I did enjoy working there. My plan at the time was to continue working there and find an apartment or a place to stay and support myself. I wanted to gain experience in the working world. After a while I found that this wasn’t working, because sustaining myself in Seattle ultimately proved to be much more difficult than I thought. Fortunately, I found an amazing gap year program and I left for two months to live in Australia and New Zealand as a part of an internship program. I came home for the holidays, but quickly left again, this time for Costa Rica as part of a program called Outward Bound, an outdoor leadership and skills training program. This pushed me to my absolute limit, both physically and mentally, and after three months I came home so much stronger and more self reliant than I ever had been previously. I spent just under a week at home before I left once again, this time to come to a place that I’d never heard of at the time, Camp Chingachgook in Lake George, New York.

I was hired as an Outdoor Educator Intern in the spring of 2018. I didn’t really know what to expect when I got here, but I was excited to meet the staff and start working almost immediately. When I heard the word intern, I expected the stereotype of getting coffee and making file copies and stuff like that, but through the phone interview with the head of Outdoor Education, Tricia Biles, I found that my job would consist of a variety of outdoor activities such as canoeing, belaying on the tower and high ropes course, leading team building and ecology based games, and most importantly, working with kids. Basically the way the season works is the staff lives on camp and school groups of different ages come to us to run their choice of activities almost every day. It’s been a fun opportunity to build friendships, grow as a leader and facilitator, and become more responsible for myself.

Right away, I fell in love the camp. First off, it’s an amazing location. Lake George is absolutely stunning, surrounded by mountains and hills and lots of green. It’s a great spot. I also loved how much the camp had to offer, such as a basketball court in my front yard, a tennis court, hiking trails to use, and canoes and kayaks available at any time. Chingachgook seemed like a great fit because it was the perfect opportunity for me to use my physical skill set as well. While I was in Costa Rica, I was trained in a variety of different skills, such as Wilderness First Aid, Whitewater Raft and Rescue, Lifeguarding, SCUBA, and Recreational Rappel. I knew at camp I would get the chance to use several of these skills in everyday life, and looking back I have, using WFA, lifeguarding, rappel, and rafting skills in different activities.

I was eased into the work, as I joined the staff a few weeks into the season and had missed some of the training. I did a lot of shadowing for other groups. After a month or so, I felt ready for more. I went to Trish and asked for more responsibilities. I wanted my own group. That was a big step in my development as a leader. In the past I would always shy away from responsibility, always finding the path of least resistance. What’s the smallest amount of work possible? But with this job, with this opportunity, it was different. It made me excited to take on a bigger role. Excited to take on more responsibilities. I welcomed that challenge. Once I was given my own group every day, I started to build my relationships with the kids. I’ve worked with kids my whole life, and I think one of my biggest strengths is walking the fine line of being their friend some of the time, but also a role model as well as an authority figure when the situation calls for it.

Over the course of my time at camp I’ve learned many skills. I’ve learned how to lead a ropes course or an aquatic learning lab, I’ve learned to be effective in team building and survival classes, and I’ve learned how to manage myself and my time effectively. This job has taught me to be a leader in my community every day. I would recommend the gap year internship program to anybody who was in the same situation as me at that time. It’s a great way to develop personal skills that last a lifetime while developing strong bonds with your co-workers. I can guarantee you will become a better version of yourself and you will have a blast doing so. Thank you for taking the time to read about my experience.

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