In France, approximately every 6 weeks, the schoolchildren get a holiday of 2 weeks long. The often means, if you’re a nanny like me, that you have 2 weeks of holiday, although not always paid. I fall into that “not working and not paid during holidays” category, which means I could either spend my time taking a vacation, or find another temporary job to fulfill.
During the Easter 2 weeks vacation, during the end of April and beginning of May, I signed up to work a day camp held within Paris (in my neighborhood no less!). It was M-F from 9am til 6:30pm, though no camp happening on bank holidays (Easter Monday and Labour Day fell within these 2 weeks, so 4 days of camp per week in the end). The wage was practically slave labor, 45€ for a whole days worth of work. So like 4€ an hour… sounds illegal for France right? Well apparently not, as it falls under a special work scheme relating to centres de loisirs/children’s camp. Note: Most American Village camps are overnight and counselors get room and board included, though this camp was strictly just during the day. Did I mention this was a brand new offering, this day camp? That’s important, follow along.
Anyways, so to be blunt this camp was actually a bit of a disaster and extremely stressful. I know that’s a loaded sentence, but it’s still a bit of an understatement. The company, American Village, usually only does overnight camps, and this was their first venture into day camps. You would think that adapting an overnight camp to a day camp isn’t rocket science, but apparently it is really hard to organize! Yay! Let’s see, for starters their daily schedule was incorrect and poorly organized. Every single day of camp our schedule was slightly different, and we as counselors had to tweak and fine tune it, despite the office folk telling us not to. It’s not an ideal situation and it left us counselors confused and not in accordance with one another. The first day someone from the head office told us that we couldn’t dismiss the kids at 4:30, even though that’s what every single document we (and the parents of the kids) had said. Apparently the company messed up the documents and only their version of everything said 5pm dismissal. We had some pretty angry kids and parents that first day… not a great start.
Second, the overall structure of the camp was weak. Supposedly, we had 4 themes and had to host a camp for each of the 4 activities every day… basically 4 camps going on at once. Let me add that this is an English immersion camp so we are supposed to rank their English level and put them in groups by level. If every kid has around the same level, sure we could have 4 different camps, but we had kids ranging from absolutely zero to general comprehension. Plus we had kids ranging in age from 6-14 years old… HUGE age gap! The big kids didn’t want to do “baby” activities and the little kids, well, they are limited to simple english activities. We had to take control and decided to stick with one theme and day and keep it simple.
Our general schedule had us doing an english lesson in the morning, followed by arts and crafts, lunchtime, 2 activities (games, sports, whatever), then a snack and final group activity. Since I was one of the native english speakers, I was preparing and giving an english lesson every morning. At this point I had no experience planning and doing structured lessons and the resources American Village (Amvil) provided weren’t very well adapted or easy for the way the day camp was structured (too many various reasons to list at the moment). Luckily one of our counselors was a veteran Amvil counselor and an experienced english teacher. During our afternoon planning time she helped us come up with ideas and structures for our classes. Arts and crafts time (also my responsibility) was probably the best part of the day because the kids were getting more energetic, but not restless, you were contained to a classroom, and you had a structured and productive activity. The biggest issue with our camp was during activity time. The activities proved to be difficult because all the instructions were supposed to be explained in English, and when you have kids who speak zero words of english, how do you simplify the explanation without sacrificing the excitement of a game. You can only do simple relay races a couple times before attention spans start to run wild. In the end, maybe organizing a camp is harder than rocket science.
Our end of the day meetings always consisted of trying to figure out how to run the activities better, how to corral the kids better, and in general what could be done to make the camp better. The first few days our meetings consisted of how to entirely reorganize the camp to function better. It’s stressful to constantly have to plan everything out again! In addition, there seemed to be a giant culture gap between the english native counselors and the french counselors (4 North Americans vs 4 French + 1 French director) because the english counselors easily came to a consensus and could take a decision quickly and move on, while the French ones kept going in circles and talking about the same points without ever directly getting to the point, taking a decision, and moving on. If you analyse the french language vs. the english language a bit (and also business cultures of the 2) you seem this same situation mirrored back. English is rather direct: I would like some information about…. (I am writing to you for some information about…)
French sometimes takes a longer (and weird path for us) to get to the same point: “Je me permets de vous écrire afin de vous demander quelques renseignements sur” (I allow myself to write you in order to ask some information about….)
We, the english speakers, would often leave the meetings a bit early since our portion of camp was all figured out and decided upon, and the issues the others were having did not pertain to us. We suggested ideas and activities, but their issues were more so how to talk with and attend to the kids running around and not listening to them or their instructions, mostly issues that we could no longer help with (we gave our answer, but again it was just a circle of concerns repeating, well, on repeat). In their defense, organizing a camp in not-your-native language would probably be difficult and confusing, but there is only so much we can help with until we get fed up with discussing in circles as well.
Camp, in the end, actually wasn’t too bad. The kids seemed to have learned something and at least enjoyed their week with us. Cleanup day was a bit stressful and I ended up putting myself in charge of getting the organization done, getting the crates packed full of our supplies, and making sure we could leave at a decent time (for 45e a day, I was not gonna stay any later than necessary). Would I work this camp again? If it was paid better and the organization problems were fixed then hell yeah! But alas, my time is worth more than 4e an hour. Do I regret working this camp? Not at all. It was stressful, but I learned a lot about french culture and proper english teaching. In fact, it’s the reason I decided to pursue more structured english teaching activities. I learned a lot about the french work culture and what I want in a job. I really enjoyed the structured days, being in charge, working on a team, and planning activities. Nannying is much more free, way less structure, but I learned that I really like having the structure. It makes the day go by faster.
American Village still hosts day camps in Paris, in fact they are expanding to 2 locations in 2020. If you are a nanny or au pair looking for something to do during your break, it could be interesting. Do I recommend it? Hard to say. Yes if it’s not too far and you are okay with slave labour pay, but “No” if running a vacation camp does not sound fun or if you could find something better paid. I’ll bet (or I would hope at least) that they got their organization together and that the vacation camp is better organized and provides more resources and structures for the counselors. Overall I don’t regret my time spent there and I’m very grateful for the things I learned, but I would not return unless the pay increases to at least be the minimum hourly wage.