Cabin Life: Friendship, Growth, and Sometimes Discomfort

by Laura Remington and Eliot Golding /
Cabin Life: Friendship, Growth, and Sometimes Discomfort

Some of the most meaningful growth we experience at camp comes from enduring periods of discomfort, whether that’s getting on stage with a serious case of jitters, jumping in a cold lake for a morning swim lesson, or hiking farther than you thought you ever could. When we come out the other side of discomfort, we have no doubt learned something about ourselves and just what we are capable of!

This applies to cabin life, too. Living with people with different personalities and from different backgrounds can be challenging. In Kabeyun cabins, boys learn to navigate a multitude of social situations, make allowances for one another, and practice managing their own feelings and behavior within safe bounds and with the support of caring counselors. Working through the discomfort and building social skills benefits them for life.

Sometimes returning campers can experience an acute sense of discomfort, disorientation, and disappointment if they arrive at Kabeyun expecting to share a cabin with last year’s group and instead find their cohort has been split. Rarely does an entire cabin group stick together from one year to the next. There are too many other factors at play, including the array of campers’ ages and grades, new campers enrolling, returning campers switching sessions, and more. But these facts do little to ease the discontent of a boy who feels alone in a new cabin group.

As adults and camp professionals, we know cabin placement is only one facet of the Kabeyun experience -- and we know that a cabin group that doesn’t feel ‘perfect’ at the beginning of the summer has the potential to yield wonderful friends over the long run! We’ve found our campers have a remarkable ability to settle in and share positive experiences with cabin mates, even if it’s not exactly the group they would have chosen for themselves. All they need to do is endure a little discomfort and keep an open mind. It may end up being their best summer yet!

Here's a personal reflection on cabin groups from Eliot Golding, a long-time camper and counselor who’s now Kabeyun’s Assistant Director.

There are many ways we can feel connected to our past at Kabeyun, and one is through the preservation of our names in each of the 11 camper cabins. It’s something of a sacred ritual, upon entering a cabin you once lived in, to wander over to your old bunk and look for your name, or to find the spot on a wall or rafter where your entire cabin listed their names at the end of their session together, to be preserved as a symbol of the time and experiences shared in that space, in that month, in that special sub-section of our wider camp community.

Of my 22 summers at camp, I spent 10 living in the Cougars, making that particular cabin incredibly special to me. I periodically pop into cabins in my role as Assistant Director, and there’s no other building I can walk into and have such a concentrated rush of memories. Nine of my summers in the Cougars were as a counselor, but I recently found myself reflecting on my first time living in the Cougars in 2004, my third summer as a Kabeyun camper.

I had started in the Wolves in 2002. Although my years at Family Camp gave me a good sense of camp’s layout, I arrived knowing few people, either counselors or fellow campers. My cabin group helped me feel comfortable very quickly, and I formed deep friendships.  When I came back for my second summer, I was delighted that most of my friends from the Wolves had returned as well, and that we were all together again, this time in the Woodchucks.

Then the third summer came. I was placed in the Cougars and found, to my chagrin, that most of my friend group from the previous two summers were in the Beavers. I felt “left behind” – not only were my friends in a different cabin, but they were in Upper Camp and I wasn’t, which meant I couldn’t even visit their cabin!

It was a shock, and not a pleasant one, to see that 2004 cabin list and realize I had been cleaved from my group. But I also think it was one of the most important and valuable moments of my time as a Kabeyun camper.

For starters, looking for ways to spend time with my friends from the Beavers led me to audition for the camp play, which sparked a life-long passion for acting. Secondly, I learned I could adapt to new circumstances in a familiar setting and thrive. There were times when I missed living with my old friends and difficult, almost painful moments when they all headed across camp together while I had to make my way in the opposite direction. But being ‘alone’ in the Cougars led me to form bonds with my new cabinmates. By the end of the summer, I had developed another set of lasting connections and friendships with boys I’ve never shared a cabin with until the Cougars, while continuing to strengthen the relationships I had from previous cabins. And what a delight it was in my last two camper years when many of my Cougars friends mixed with those old friends from the Beavers! Those 2004 Eagles and 2005 Owls cabins brought together a mix of styles and personalities that produced some of my very favorite Kabeyun moments. The rosters of those special groups are still indelibly inked on the walls of the cabins where we made those memories together.

As I write this, camp is about three months away. I know (because I too was a young camper once!) a small note of concern may creep into the minds of our boys in the coming months. Returning campers will wonder: Will I be in a cabin with any of my friends from last year? New campers might worry: Will I make friends in my cabin? All I can say is an emphatic ‘Yes!’ Friendships and connections, new and old, are waiting here for you, even if they are not apparent at first. I know, I’ve been there. I promise you will enjoy this summer, and the lessons, connections, and memories you’ll build here will stay with you long after you’ve returned home.

Eliot Golding is Kabeyun's Assistant Director. Laura Remington is our Associate Director for Engagement and Operations.

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