By Alex Banks-Watson. First published in Grace Chapman’s last edition of SHED, 2004.
I went to only one session of Grace Llewellyn’s Oregon-based Not Back To School Camp, but it made a huge and long lasting impression on my life. I went as a 16 year old Australian during a 6 month visit to the U.S. with my family in 2000. My mother and 3 younger siblings were also at the camp (parents do not usually go, but mum went as a cook to help pay for us).
I didn’t know much about the camp prior to arriving at Camp Myrtlewood (the venue of Grace’s camp), and was looking forward to it as simply another interesting ‘American experience’. Was I ever wrong!!! Within 48 hours of getting there (we got there a day early since mum was a staff member) I was suddenly a part of a social circle of more than 100 people of a similar age and background to myself. While not an unusual thing for most kids, as a home educator I’d long felt myself to be an ‘outsider’ in large groups so it was an amazing feeling to be a member of such a big group. It’s hard to imagine how this feels without actually experiencing it, and I suppose it’s a much stronger feeling than even school kids ever feel considering that in that environment there are always outsiders anyway. As home educators used to being outsiders the sudden feeling of inclusion was incredible!
I’d been to camps before but never with these numbers, mostly teenagers, or with this focus of learning from each other. Thus, I spent the next week spending every waking moment (and let me tell you there were more waking moments that week than in an average week), in as many camp, sub group and individually organised events as possible spending the rest of the time getting to know vast numbers of like minded people. I came away on a new plane of inspiration, confidence in the path of my life, and anticipation of where all these contacts could lead me.
And in the long run the greatest impact has been the network of friends that I continue to keep up with. I’ve returned to the States every year since then, not to go to camp, but to stay close to the friends I made during that one week in September 4 years ago. I almost felt as though I didn’t need to go to another camp. I’d made so many friends and had gotten the ‘camp feeling’ that simply maintaining the contacts was enough. I was part of a whole. As a person from another country that’s awesome. In your home country it’s beyond belief!!! You suddenly have a group of people to visit and be continually inspired by and bounce off. It’s like a big fist full of keys. That’s what we want to create here in Australia. A coming together of ‘outsiders’ to become a body, people to lean on and help out, and mostly just to have the knowledge that you’re not the only one.