Student Stories

Better Than Bug Juice

We're asking our students what they're up to and how they're making the most of their summer. In this installment of our Summer Postcard series, we look at a postcard from recent U of C graduate Marcella, who spent the summer working at a camp in Italy.

--Jessen O'Brien, New Media Editor

I was 10 years old when Nickelodeon first aired Bug Juice, a television show that featured gangly teenagers clad in their finest '90s wear during one glorious summer of their lives: summer at sleep-away camp.

It was not until the show was over, when I was twelve, that I had my first stint as an overnight camper. Camp for me that year was one week at the Olympic Development Program for soccer—exhausting fitness tests, cutthroat competition, and female cattiness.

In comparison, life on the show Bug Juice—where campers made lanyards, sang camp songs, itched mosquito bites, and suffered from unrequited love—seemed impossible to supersede.

Exactly 10 summers after my first experience as a camper, I packed my suitcase for another summer away from home. This time, I would live for one month in a villa in an upscale residential neighborhood in Florence, Italy, be responsible for the welfare of nine high school aged girls as a resident adviser, and plan weekly excursions and activities within the city. With four hard years at UChicago behind me and many more years of education ahead, I welcomed this summer as an opportunity to relax, explore a foreign country, improve my Italian, and get some additional work experience. When 48 kids arrived, dragging enough luggage to survive for five years, I reassessed my expectations of a simple summer.

These students were unlike any teenagers I had ever encountered. Most of them came from “The City,” New Yorkers seemingly straight off a Gossip Girl set. “My driver” and “my summer home” were commonly tossed around.

And they were used to getting their way about everything. Exceptions for curfew were demanded, reprimands fell on deaf ears, and when one RA denied a privilege, another RA was sought out.

But for every camper with an attitude, there was another gem. Throughout the duration of the month, I was reminded again and again of the plotlines on Bug Juice. The guys pulled innocent pranks on the girls, summer love was found, and heartbreaks happened. Kids hid hoards of candy in their rooms, only to share them with the RAs during nightly check in. Numerous dance parties to Hanson hits, complete with hair brush microphones and goofy dance moves, occurred in the halls.

At the end of the day, these kids were just like all other campers. They got home sick, they got stomach sick, and they got lice. Yes, lice.

But looking back, just days after the program's end, my summer still looks just as amazing as it did looking forward. In fact, I got to do some fantastic things while abroad. I hiked the gorgeous trail at Cinque Terre, climbed the Duomo, and joined in on a celebration of Siena's Palio horse race. I met some incredible people this summer as well, and I also bonded with a number of the campers—a few of whom I would welcome as younger siblings, and a few more as students at UChicago.

UChicago prides itself on being a place where young scholars can think, transform, belong, create, play, and explore. Diversity thrives at UChicago, not only among the people who call it their home for four years, but in the subjects, perspectives, and academic approaches that all converge within the Hyde Park campus. It was during undergrad that I learned to be comfortable with challenges that lie outside my area of expertise and beliefs divergent of my own. These lessons served me well this summer as I, a kid from the Windy City, had to adapt to kids mainly from New York City (the city, the only city that concerned them). Their upbringing, their lifestyles, their spending habits—though different than my own—simply took some time to understand. 

As I return to my modest home, these kids are headed back to their glamorous lifestyles, bringing their head lice, bug bites, and broken hearts with them. Thankfully, I do not bring such summer camp tokens back with me. Instead, I have gained in other ways. Working with the campers, I learned greater patience, empathy, and conflict resolution skills. Also important at this stage of my life—poised between undergrad and graduate school—I had a chance to refresh my spirit and return to an age where summers were essentially care free. I would never exchange this summer with previous summers of college—those internships were essential to my career goals. But without a doubt, I'd say summer 2011 was a big improvement on the summer camps of my childhood. Bug Juice's Camp Waziyatah has nothing on a summer in Florence.