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I’m back at home now and reflecting on my time in New Orleans. I wanted to write a bit more about the work I did there. I was at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum as camp counselor for kids aged 7 to 11, with one week dedicated to kids aged 12 to 15. The first week of my internship was an orientation week which was much needed for the task I and two other new interns were about to undertake. I had taught small groups of kids swim lessons a couple summers before and I volunteer in the Children’s Playroom at Duke Hospital every week during the school year so clearly I have experience with being around kids, and I enjoy my time with them, so I was excited for that part, but teaching, and to a group of 30 small kids every day for six weeks, seemed daunting. I’m typically described as soft-spoken, a listener rather than a talker, and I admit class presentations have always made me anxious. Yet I wanted to take on this job to challenge myself to be loud.

I try to do the same thing at Duke. I take discussion-based classes to push me to raise my hand more, but oftentimes it’s still so much easier to hang back – someone else will likely bring up what I was thinking anyway… But leading a camp isn’t like that. You have to show up with energy and enthusiasm every day and you can’t hang back.

The first week was difficult. Every day after camp ended we did a quick pros and cons together and one, you can guess which side, was that I could be louder. I expected it, but it was still disappointing when I had been trying to raise my voice. I experimented each day with getting a little louder. I thought I was being loud, but the daily pros and cons told me I had to be louder – like being told to scream into an abyss. It was one of my biggest accomplishments of the summer to have (was it days and it just felt like weeks later?) jotted down on the pros side, « could hear Danielle! »

Helping out at the tamale assembly station

A week or so later, I did get sick and it severely limited my newfound loudness, setting my efforts back – a lot – but I eventually recovered and was able to take over again.

As camp went on I gained more confidence to present more information to the kids – my specific role was Cooking Counselor meaning I picked the recipes for each day and prepared the logistics for how those recipes would be followed, who would lead the station for that recipe, and what tools were necessary. Long story short, I didn’t lead a section like the Craft, History/Nutrition, or Games Counselors did. My job was more in the background, setting the gears right, but as camp went on I carved out a bit more presentation time for myself. I was able to tell the kids more about the food we would be preparing and why I chose these recipes. I wish I had started earlier, but all the same, sometimes we ran late and didn’t have time for much of a presentation. But still, the days we did, I enjoyed getting the kids to raise their hands for whether they had ever tried Indian cuisine, or had even heard of Doro Wat on Injera. Their enthusiasm buoyed my spirit when my stage fright wanted to kick in.

As happy as I was to attempt being loud, I also began to realize my tendency to be soft-spoken as a positive. Due to having a more background role, I was able to float around the room during other sections and get to know some of the campers as I helped them in smaller groups to complete a craft or measure out an ingredient. The kids appreciated the attention and the chance to tell me all about themselves. Some kids came back to camp multiple weeks and I looked forward to the stories they would come and tell me. I’ve known I’m more comfortable in smaller groups, but I realized I can be just as impactful, maybe even more so, when interacting with the kids in these smaller groups than when attempting to talk to them all at once. I know it by the drawings they left, their cheers when I picked their table to help during craft time or to sit at during lunch, and how they wanted to get to me too. It was fun explaining to them my hopes to work with kids their age more in the future, as a pediatrician.

Will these lessons carry to campus? I will miss the kids’ energy and excitement for our camp each day and all the things we would be teaching them. I will miss their positivity and how it helped me break out of my shell a little more. I won’t be blogging by then to keep you updated but I hope these lessons do carry, since I put myself in a couple more discussion-based classes for the coming semester.