Summer Camp USA

Each and every summer (remember in the USA that’s June -September) more than 8 million American children pack their bags and head off to summer camp – it’s a century-old tradition that’s as deep-rooted in America as Baseball, Chevrolet and the Big Mac!

Thousands of camps operate to provide campers with a safe, fun and nurturing environment where they are free to be themselves no matter their social backgrounds, religious faith or physical abilities.



Camps are located in beautiful, rural settings across North America. Most are near lakes or rivers, have extensive open land, sports fields, and areas for activities such as swimming, rock climbing, water skiing, arts and crafts, performing arts, dance, gymnastics and soccer, to name but a few!  Each camp is unique, but they all have one common goal and that is to give each camper a summer they’ll never forget!

Along with the 8 million children attending summer camp, are another 18,000 international counselors from across the globe. Heading to a US summer camp has become an increasingly popular option for young South Africans that want to leave behind the winter months and seek out their own ‘Adventure of a lifetime’ working at camp.  As a counselor you will work with kids aged 7-16 years old teaching activities, as well as being a friend, leader and role model them. Specialist Counselor positions are available for people with strong skills in certain activities (such as water sports instruction or arts and music), while General Counselor positions are available for all-rounders.  Camp is without a doubt hard work but if you give it 100% you will have the most incredible experience and make memories that will last a lifetime.


Applicants for Summer Camp USA must:

  • Be aged 19 years by 1st June in the year you wish to go to camp (exceptions can be made for mature 18 year old applicants with very strong camp skills and experience with kids)
  • Have strong English language skills
  • Be willing to work long hours with kids and some prior experience
  • Have two or more camp related skills that you can teach or assist in teaching to kids at camp – the stronger your skills and application, the better the chance of a placement at camp
  • Be open minded, energetic, flexible & prepared to work long hours!
  • Have no criminal record
  • Have sufficient funds to pay for program fees, flights and all additional costs
  • Be independent and self-motivated. You will be required to engage pro-actively in the application process, as well as research your travels and job position fully.  It is vital to understand that living and working in a new country will be challenging at times and is a learning and life experience, not simply a holiday.

Season & Duration

The US summer camp season runs from late May through to early August.  You will need to commit to a contract of between 9-11 weeks over this period. The J1 visa will allow you to work at Summer Camp for the period of your camp contract.  In addition you will have up to 30 days at the end of your camp contract to travel and sightsee in the USA.

Why Do Summer Camp USA?

  • Work Experience – Working at a Summer Camp provides you with ideal experience if you are planning to pursue a career in childcare or teaching. Any kind of overseas work experience says a great deal about your strong character, independence and motivation that are all great for your CV, no matter what your intended career path!
  • Networking – A great opportunity to establish friendships and develop an international network of friends and contacts.
  • Cultural Exchange – A wonderful opportunity to learn about the US culture, history and politics while at the same time providing insight into your own home country.
  • Fun – Camp is not only good for your CV…. Working at camp means you’ll experience the excitement of living and working in a new country and traveling across the country with new friends after your camp contract.
  • Safe and Secure Working Environment – Summer Camp is the ideal program for a 1st time traveler. Safe and secure environment, full placement prior to departure, and all travel arrangements and pick up secured!  All meals and accommodation are covered while you’re at camp.  A work travel experience couldn’t be easier!
  • Gain Confidence and Independence – Your Summer Camp experience will help you build both the hard and soft skills that will set you up for life.
  • Maximize your Opportunity to Travel – After camp you will have an opportunity to travel around the USA for up to 30 days! This is a brilliant chance to travel with other international staff and stay you’re your new US friends.

Camp Counselor Role

As a Summer Camp counselor you will enjoy the most rewarding, exciting, and fun filled summer of your life!  You’ll spend almost all your time with ‘your’ kids.  So you need to be sure you like children!  Children range in age from 7-15 and you may attend an all girls, all boys, or co-ed (mixed) camp.  You’ll live in a cabin with your kids (approx. 8-10) and accompany them to their activities, assist in teaching activities or even lead the activity yourself!  You’ll eat meals with the kids, entertainment them, sing with them, laugh with them, and even cry with them (on the final day of camp!).  Did we mention that you need to like kids?!!!!!  It’s a big responsibility, but don’t worry, you’ll have lots of help in the form of other great co-counselors from around the globe.

A Camp Counselor is a friend, a mentor, a teacher, a role model and even a little bit of mum or dad to the kids that they work with.  If you have the right personality for a Camp Counselor role then you will discover that your days are hugely rewarding and lots of fun too. But it’s also hard work and physically demanding at times.  You should be prepared for possibly being in an isolated location where social activities may be limited during time off.  Rustic conditions and ‘uninvited wildlife’ including bugs, mosquitoes are commonplace at Camp.  You should also be aware that in order to ensure that Camp is a safe and nurturing environment, various rules and regulations are in place.  These include curfews and restrictions on alcohol consumption, smoking and mobile phone/internet usage.  Flexibility is key at Camp and you are likely to be asked to do a job or assist in another area other than the one you were assigned to initially.

What might you be teaching?

As a Camp Counselor one of your primary roles is as an activity instructor / leader.  There is a huge array of activities on offer at most camps, from land sports to water sport, outdoor adventure to high ropes and climbing.

And don’t worry if you are not the ‘sporty’ type either, as there are also activities like arts and crafts, drama, theatre and dance.  The stronger your activity skills are the higher your chances of placement. Check out the list below for what you might be able to teach or assist in teaching – there really is something for everyone!

Arts & Crafts

  • Ceramics / Pottery
  • Graphic design
  • Jewellery Making
  • Leather Work
  • Nature Craft
  • Painting
  • Photography (Film/Digital)
  • Rocketry
  • Screen Printing
  • Sculpture
  • Stained Glass
  • Tie-dye
  • Woodworking
  • Cartooning
  • Batiking

Adventure Skills

  • Abseiling/Rappelling
  • Backpacking
  • Camping/Hiking/Trekking
  • Farm Animal Care
  • Go-carts
  • Horseback Riding (Western/English)
  • Low/High Ropes
  • Mountain Biking
  • Orienteering
  • Outdoor Cooking
  • Riflery
  • Rock Climbing
  • Skateboarding
  • Scouting

Performing Arts

  • Ballet/Dance/Choreography
  • Circus
  • Costume/Set Design
  • Drama
  • Guitar
  • Magic
  • Music
  • Piano
  • Radio Amateurs
  • Stage Direction
  • Video Production

Water Sports

  • Boat / Pontoon Driving
  • Diving
  • Fishing
  • Knee Boarding
  • Kayaking /Canoeing
  • Lifeguard (Surf/Pool)
  • Rowing
  • Sailing
  • Scuba Diving
  • Surfing
  • Swimming
  • Water skiing
  • Wakeboarding
  • Windsurfing
  • White Water Rafting

Land Sports

  • Aerobics
  • Archery
  • Baseball
  • Basketball
  • Fencing
  • Field Hockey
  • Football
  • Gridiron (American Football)
  • Golf
  • Gymnastics
  • Lacrosse
  • Martial Arts
  • Roller Hockey
  • Rugby
  • Soccer
  • Skateboarding
  • Tennis
  • Yoga


  • Nursing
  • Special needs carers
  • Occupational therapists
  • Group facilitators
  • Bible studies / Theology
  • Nutritionists

Camp Placements

There are thousands of summer camps across the USA, how does Chilli find the right one for you?

Chilli Adventures work in conjunction with the BUNAC Placement team.  This partnership brings together extensive experience working with over 300 of the top US summer camps – each one accredited by the industry governing body, the American Camping Association (ACA) and each with high program and safety standards.

Camp Types

Broadly speaking each Summer Camp falls into one or more ‘camp types’.  Each is unique, however all share the same philosophy of ensuring that campers have a safe and fun filled summer. When you complete your online application you are asked to select the types of camps that you would like to work at.  This choice, along with the skills that you are able to teach and your personality type, help to inform us as to the perfect summer camp placement for you!  Remember that the more flexible you can be, the greater your chance of placement.  Ask any past Camp Counselor and they’ll say that their particular Summer Camp was THE BEST!

Agency Camp

This type of camp is run by an agency such as the YMCA, 4-H Clubs, Campfire Boys & Girls, etc. Campers come from various socio-economic backgrounds. These camps follow the traditions of the agency to which they are affiliated and are operated by a Board of Directors rather than an individual owner. Some are rustic and others have more modern facilities.

Day Camp

This type of camp operates for daytime sessions only. Children arrive early in the morning and participate in a day full of activities, then return to their homes again at the end of the day/afternoon (usually before dinner-time). Counselors participate in a variety of activities with the children during the day. Activities are usually rotated and are more focused on fun and variety than skill training. Counselors are accommodated in either on-site accommodation (dorm rooms, camp staff house) or with host families and have most evenings and some weekends free, once the children have gone home. Day camps are more often located closer to towns/cities than residential camps. Campers come from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds. Most day camps are co-ed. (*Note- counselors working at day camps must complete an 11-week contract as opposed to a 9-week contract for residential camps).

Family Camp

This type of camp is host to entire families during the summer. Some families have attended a particular family camp for generations. Counselors at family camps are often asked to teach or assist in activities with groups of adults or children, or both.   At a family camp the staff usually sleep in separate accommodation, apart from the families. During mealtimes entire families will often dine together and many families that attend family camp come from middle to upper-socio economic backgrounds.

Girl Scout Camp

This camp type is operated by Girls Scouts of America – an organization that runs year round clubs to promote the growth of young women in society through activities, challenges and educational experiences.  Girl Scout camps have female campers only and most have female-only staff, though a few may sometimes have males on staff.  The camp facilities are often rustic, using platform tents and camping (tents) for accommodation. The main activity focuses are arts and crafts, outdoor adventure/cooking, waterfront activities and ropes courses. Campers come from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds.

Private/Independent Camp

This type of camp is a privately owned and operated business. Many private camps are all-boys or all-girls camps, although there are also many co-ed private camps. The majority of private campers come from higher socio-economic backgrounds and would have paid large tuition fees to attend the camp. Many families have been sending their children to the same private camp for generations, so traditions are strongly rooted in the camper and camp staff community.

Religious Camp

This type of camp offers campers an opportunity to attend a traditional summer camp while celebrating their religious beliefs at the same time. The level of religious awareness as well as the level of religious involvement required from camp staff varies depending on the camp. Some camps focus more heavily on religion and religious studies, while others incorporate religious and moral beliefs into daily camp activities in a more subtle way. Most religious camps in America are Christian, Catholic or Jewish faith based (though camps based on other faiths exist as well). The campers at religious camps come from various socio-economic backgrounds.

Special Needs Camp

This type of camp services people with various types of Special Needs including (but not limited to): Mental and/or Physical Disabilities, Blindness, Deafness, Learning Disabilities, ADHD/ADD.  Campers may range in age from young children to adults or elderly campers and the camps themselves may accommodate children only, children and adults, or adults only. Funding is often through grants and donations and the camps are operated by organizations and foundations on a year round basis. Extensive training is provided for all staff and the facilities are highly specialized to accommodate the needs of the campers. Many counselors will work with campers on a counselor to camper ratio of 1:1 or 1:2. Most Special Needs camps do not require counselors to have previous experience however they do need staff who are calm, patient and caring and who can give specialized care and attention to campers.

Underprivileged Camp

This type of camp services children from lower socio-economic backgrounds.  Often these children are attending camp on a scholarship, as their families cannot afford the camp tuition. Underprivileged camps are usually run by an organization that relies on charitable donations and grants to the operate camp. Many underprivileged camps have more basic facilities and the campers mainly come from inner cities.

Typical Day

No two days are the same at camp, but here’s what you might expect from a typical day…

07.15   Wake Up

The type of wake up will depend on your camp. Older, more traditional camps could have a bugle, horn or bell whereas more modern camps may play music over the PA system.

08.00   Flag Rising

Many camps have a group flag rising each morning. Please be respectful even though it is the Stars And Stripes being raised and not your nation’s flag.

08.15   Breakfast

You will find sweet and savory, crunchy and sloppy, toasted and chilled… every kind of food available ready to fuel your day! Many camps will have songs or breakfast chants to get the kids excited for the day ahead.

08.50   Cabin Clean Up

Everyone heads back to their cabin or tent after breakfast to tidy up. You will be expected to help and oversee the clean up of cabins. The clean up will involve sweeping, taking out trash, putting wet clothes out to dry and generally making the cabin neat. Camp may run an inspection (possibly with prizes) each day.

09.30   First Activity Period

The kids will go to their scheduled activities while you either teach your specialist activity, or if you are a general counselor, you will take an assigned group of kids to their next activity.

10.30   Start of Second Activity Period

The kids will move on to their next assigned activity for the day. If you are an activity specialist then you will receive a new group of kids. If you are a general counselor you will be assigned to a group of kids to take to an activity.

11.30   Free Time

Free time is a good time for the kids to head back to the cabin and spend some time together getting to know other people in their cabin. It is also a good time to read and write notes to catch up with family and friends. Many camps may expect you to be in your cabin at this time as it is a great chance for you to get to know your cabin early on. You can become a role model for how you expect the kids to behave in the free time and keep an eye on the dynamics of the children in the cabin.

12.15   Lunch

Again… food…and possibly singing! Food… singing… food… singing!

13.00   Rest Hour

It will soon become apparent to you that rest hour is the greatest idea of all camp ideas! The combination of the early start, the hectic morning and the belly full of food may put you in the mood for an afternoon rest. Again, set your expectations early. If you want to sleep make it clear from the start that you need a quiet cabin. Your neighboring counselors will love you for keeping a quiet cabin too!

14.30   Start of Third Activity Period

Wake up and back to activities. Activity specialists teach in their activity areas and general counselors circulate with campers.

15.30   Start of Fourth Activity Period

Another activity session following the same format.

16.40   End of Fourth Activity Period

More free time. Some camps may hold an all-camp afternoon activity in the afternoon, whereas others have 4, 5 or even 6 activity periods a day with some rest time shortly before dinner.

18.00  Dinner

More food, and more singing!!

19.15   Evening activity

Evening activities are great fun and a wonderful opportunity for everyone to get to know each other. Campers and counselors alike can integrate with people from other cabins and age groups. Evening activities range from themed dances, all-camp competitions, camp fire evenings, and talent shows… the list goes on and on!

20.30   Evening Activity Ends

Camps may serve an evening snack, and then everyone heads back to the cabins to talk about their day, wind down, and spend some time catching up as a cabin.

21.00   Quiet time, prep for bed

Time to get settled, brush teeth and get your PJ’s on.

21.30   Vespers

A good time to read, write home and generally relax and wind down.

22.00   Lights out. Time to Sleep


22.15   Free Time (Staff not on duty)

If you are not on duty you will be free to leave your cabin and go and spend time with counselors at the staff lounge or other designated staff-only areas. The restrictions and rules for after lights out will vary from camp to camp. You may be allowed to leave camp but are likely to have a curfew.

How do I apply?

To apply for the Summer Camp program to the USA, simply follow these easy steps:

  • Attend an Information Session with your local Chilli Program Coordinator and get clued up on all aspects of the program
  • Apply online and agree to Program T’s & C’s and receive your Application Pack containing additional documentation that must be completed and your program fee invoice
  • Pay your application deposit R1500 (use your full name as a reference). NOTE: Application deposits are refunded in full if you are not accepted onto the program by Chilli
  • Attend an interview with a Chilli program coordinator in your area, or over Skype.  Your acceptance will be confirmed at your interview
  • Submit additional documentation including References, Qualifications and Medical Form and complete your program fee payment.
  • Attend Chilli’s GAC (Get a Clue Session) for information on visa application, job placements and hiring fairs
  • Book your flight and get your visa granted
  • Attend Chilli’s Summer Camp USA pre-departure meetings

Note: A great deal goes into the application process to ensure that you are accepted by the J1 sponsor and placed at a Summer Camp.  You’ll need to ensure your application is of a high quality and stay on top of submitting your paperwork to secure a position.

Terms & Conditions

Please Speak to your Chilli Adventures Program Co-ordinator for program specific terms and conditions.

Program Costs

The program fees payable to Chilli Adventures for Summer Camp USA are as follows:

  • * Application Deposit – R950 – Payable prior to interview.  Fully refunded if not accepted onto the program
  • * Program Fees – R4650 – Payable following interview & acceptance

*  NOTE: Prices may change in line with cooperating agents and / or currency fluctuations.  Please read Program Terms & Conditions for full details.

Chilli Ambassador Rate – A Chilli Ambassador is someone who has worked and travelled overseas previously and that is happy to assist with spreading the word!  If selected as an Ambassador you will qualify for 50% off your program fees.  Interested?  Email your CV to and let us know what you would do to get the word out there and why you believe you’d make a great ambassador.


Your Program Fees to Chilli Adventures Include:

  • J1 Cultural Exchange visa sponsorship allowing you to apply for a J1 work visa
  • US SEVIS Fee payment of $35 and SEVIS Validation service in the USA
  • Application and US Visa processing assistance
  • Comprehensive Work and Travel Medical Insurance for up to 3 months
  • Attendance at a GAC (Get a Clue) Session for guidance on visas, camp placements as well as travel and life in the USA
  • Attendance at a PDOM (Pre-departure Orientation Meeting) covering all essentials vital to a successful trip including SEVIS validation, immigration processes, packing, insurance and U.S. overseas support
  • Partner discounts (on flights, SIM cards, merchandise and more)
  • 24 hour Emergency help and support in South Africa and the USA
  • Opportunity to work full or part time for Chilli upon return to SA
  • Program reference

Additional Costs

In addition to the program fees that you pay to Chilli, you must also factor in the following additional costs:

  • * Return flight to the USA (approx. R8,500 – R11,000)
  • US Consulate visa processing Fee ($160)
  • Additional insurance if required (approx. $40)
  • Spending money for use upon arrival (approx. $600 – $800)

* NOTE: Prices may change in line with cooperating agents and / or currency fluctuations.  Please read Program Terms & Conditions for full details.

Expected Earnings

In return for your hard work you’ll earn an income ranging between $1650 (9 week contract) to $1850 (for an 11 week contract).  The option to stay on and work during, pre or post camp may allow you to earn an additional stipend of around $35 per day.  Whilst at camp you’ll receive all meals and accommodation so you have no significant living expenses.

NOTE: Your J1 Summer Camp visa allows you to work at summer camp ONLY.  Moonlighting at McDonalds is not allowed!

Cost of Living

In addition to your basic salary at camp, all your accommodation and food costs are covered so you have very little in the way of additional expenses. It is recommended however that you take over to the USA start up funds of between $600-$800 to cover any local costs of getting to camp (these are usually reimbursed later) as well as money you may want for your time off.

Frequently Asked Questions

Lots of questions buzzing through your head? This may help you out!

Q: Can my friend and I be placed at the same camp?

A: Camp Directors prefer to hire individuals rather than couples or groups which can make it difficult for you to be placed with a friend.  However, if you request it we will make an attempt to place you together.  Also keep in mind that each person comes with their own set of skills, talents and preferences and we are dedicated to finding each counselor the best possible placement for them!  We would urge you to consider having your own experience at camp (you’ll meet so many more new people that way) and then meet up to travel together after camp is finished.

Q: Can I choose which part of the US I want to go to camp in?

A: We want you to have the best summer possible so that means being placed at a camp that suits your skills, abilities and camp type preferences and that camp may not be in the State that you requested. Whilst working at camp you will have very little time off to explore anyway, so its much more important that you are matched well with the camp itself.  We recommend that you use your travel time after camp to get to those dream destinations!

Q: I have already found a placement – do I still need to apply through Chilli Adventures?

A: Yes.  You cannot be issued a visa for working at camp unless you go through a program sponsor such as Chilli Adventures.  As a program sponsor we are also required to screen you and assess your suitability for the program.  If you have already found a camp placement yourself (perhaps your brother or sister went to that camp), simply complete the Application process as normal and include a letter from your camp confirming the placement offered to you.  Chilli Adventures will then forward your application to that camp once you have been interviewed and accepted.  NOTE: It’s important that Chilli and one of our placement partners actually work with the camp you have selected.

Q: I am currently studying so only have 6 weeks available.  Can i still be placed at camp?

A: Sadly we cannot accept you onto the program for your first summer unless you have a full 9 weeks available to work at camp.  However, camps are prepared to take on returning counselors for a shorter period of time.  So if you need to get to varsity next year you may still be able to go to camp for your winter vac!

Q: How much ‘experience with kids’ do I really need?

A: You need to have enough experience with children to know that you like being around them!  If you know you like kids, think about how you know this.  Perhaps you have younger siblings or cousins that you look after.  Perhaps you’ve helped out with younger kids at school or church.  Or maybe you have babysitting experience.  It all counts!

Q: I’m a 34-year old sports coach.  Can I apply for the program still or am I too old?

A: If you work in a child related profession you’re never too old!  Teachers, coaches, adventure leaders and the like are all appropriate and eligible to work at camp despite being over the age of 30.  In fact camps are looking for staff with greater skills or experience.  Apply NOW (LINK)

Q: Last year I went to camp with another agency but I met friends at camp who’d been through Chilli Adventures and had a much easier time.  Can I apply with you guys this year?

A: Totally!! We’ve found over the years that our reputation and level of service has meant that many people choose to get back to camp with us.  In addition, Chilli Adventures allow for returnees to pay the lowest fees in the industry, so it’s not hard to see why people make the switch.  Simply complete your application and forward us any written documentation that confirms your camp wants you back and we’ll do the rest!

Q: I’m a smoker.  Will that be a problem at camp?

A: Your schedule at camp will mean that it’s not possible to smoke during the day at all.  SOME camps have ‘smokers areas’ that you can access in your time off, but its normally frowned upon.  Living in a non-smoking environment like camp, makes everyone acutely sensitive to the smell of smoke.  Camps are also typically out in wooded areas so smoking can be a real fire hazard too.  Breaking camp smoking rules will result in immediate dismissal.

Q: I don’t live in Cape Town or Jo’burg.  What happens about my interview?

A: Chilli Adventures have a large ‘National Team’ of past counsellors who have been trained as interviewers and who help with promotions and interviews around South Africa.  Chilli representatives are also on the road around the country during the camp recruitment season (September – April) and so interviews can also be conducted in conjunction with this or over Skype.

Q: How long will my placement take to come through?

A: Your placement could come through anytime from September to June.  We will of course try and place you ASAP, but we wont rush the process.  Our priority is to find you the best possible placement.  The earlier you apply and the more open you are to the types of camp you are placed at, the easier it is to get you placed quickly.

Q: Camp sounds brilliant but I’d really like to chat to someone who has already been through this experience, and get a better idea of what its all about.  Is that possible?

A: Absolutely.  We highly recommend that anyone applying for camp attend one of Chilli Adventures information sessions.  These are held around the country from September to April. Info sessions will give you a realistic idea as to what camp is all about, the role of a counselor and what is expected of you.  We will also outline the application and visa process as well as all costs involved.  Many Chilli Adventures staff have previously worked in a Summer Camp so you will have an opportunity to quiz them, as well as chat to last season’s counsellors. Check out the Events page (LINK) or call your local office for dates and venue details.

Q: How do I go about booking my flights?  Is there a Travel Agency that you recommend?

A: Chilli Adventures work with top youth and student travel agents who understand the needs of the camp program.  We have preferred rates and can get you the best deals in town.  Chat to your Chilli Program Coordinator.

Q: What can I expect when I arrive at camp?  How can I make sure I fit in?

A: Camp may well be bathed in darkness when you arrive.  You’ll be shown where you’ll be sleeping for the period of staff training.  This is very likely to change once cabin assignments have been done in preparation for the arrival of the camp kids. You’ll be very tired and most likely jet lagged when you first arrive.  It’s important to try and get on to local time as soon as you can so stay awake and as active as possible in the day so you’ll sleep at night.

Staff training lasts approximately 3 days to a week.  You’ll be shown around camp and will have the chance to get to know other staff and how the camp runs.  The main thing to remember during those first days at camp is to relax, to be yourself, to participate fully and enjoy the experience.

The biggest problem over the first few days is settling in, getting into a routine, and remembering everybody’s name!  You are likely to be asked to wear some form of nametag (this will also be of great benefit when campers arrive).  You will quickly find that camp is a supportive environment and that Camp Directors work hard to maintain camp traditions and make everyone feel at home.

If you show your commitment, remain positive and consistently prove yourself to be an appropriate role model and leader, Camp Directors will recognize and reward that effort.  Camp works by making the experience so valuable to campers and staff that everyone wants to go back next summer.  Going to a particular camp becomes a family tradition and we hope that you feel the same after your summer.