Growing up, I could not be away from my parents for more than a night or two. Sleepovers at a friend’s house were out of the question, and I would even get anxiety going on family vacations since I liked sleeping in my own room so much. Change scared me and it took going to college for me to truly break out of my shell.
When I was 15 my Mom signed me up for a 2-week Spanish immersion language camp in the woods of Bemidji, Minnesota. My older brother went for French camp a few years earlier and loved it, so naturally my parents figured I would too. At that age I was an anti-social, awkward mess with braces, a training bra and a crazy attachment to my parent’s house. To this day I’m still a bit melodramatic, but let’s just say Julia Kristin Summers at the height of puberty was off the charts.
My Mom helped me pack a giant duffel bag full of clothes and a sleeping bag, plus a plastic bag full of quarters to call home since cell phones weren’t allowed (this was 2002). I had tears in my eyes as I waved goodbye to my Mom at the airport and boarded a tiny plane full of fellow campers also on their way to Concordia Language Villages.
The counselors went through my bag and took away any reading material or music that was in English and I was assigned the top bunk of a rustic cabin with 15 girls. Luckily, I was able to keep my Christina Aguilera Spanish CD I packed at the last moment for entertainment. I decided to hide my cell phone deep in my backpack because I sensed I would need to escape. My first day I found out some disturbing news—campers were not allowed to use the phone at all. I plotted in my bunk on how I would escape in the middle of the night, but quickly realized I had no clue where I was going.
I don’t know what I thought the bathroom situation was going to be, but campers were permitted to shower at certain hours of the day in a large open room with several showerheads. I knew there was no way I was going to get naked in front of anyone else, so I decided to not shower while I was there or change my clothes. Like I said—dramatic! I rocked a pair of Aeropostale sweatpants and an American Eagle t-shirt my entire stay.
After 36 hours of moping around I finally figured out who the director of the camp was. After she gave a speech to all the campers I darted after her and told her my saga. She said I still couldn’t use the phone and writing letters would have to do. I had already scribbled several letters of panic to my parents but knew it would be days before they arrived back home in Illinois. I decided to tell her I was sick and figured that would do something.
The camp nurse didn’t find much wrong with me. But since I weighed less than 100 pounds and clearly looked crazy from wearing the same clothes and not eating for three days, someone called my parents. I talked to my Mom that evening and she was in a mild state of panic after the camp called her saying I was sick and she hadn’t heard from me in days. I explained the situation and how homesick I was and my mother was on a plane the next morning to come get me in Minnesota and take me home.
I confiscated all the letters I wrote at camp, which arrived weeks later before my parents could see my distraught letters. At that age I clearly wasn’t ready to be away from home and my Mom and I can now laugh about the time I had to be rescued from Spanish camp. This is still a bit of an embarrassing story for me, and to this day some of my family members argue I should have stuck it out. Even though I didn’t make it through camp, just four days after I graduated from high school I moved to Chicago. Not everyone is ready to travel or leave home at the same time, but I was eventually ready and I haven’t looked back since.