Twice-Told Tale

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Twice-Told Tale

Twice-Told Tale

China Summer Camp Becomes A Reality

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Serena Young
(Above) I’m so grateful to watch each and every one of these girls go through a transformation. “Do you want to do it again next year?” my mom asked me. I smiled and nodded my response.

Often, we only hear about the glossy success stories after they happen. When asked about the process, hard work is almost always mentioned. But what does working hard really mean? What does the behind-the-scenes actually look like?

Around the beginning of 2023, a friend pitched the idea of starting a summer camp for girls to my mom and me. At that time, we had just finished four months of livestreaming to over 10,000 viewers on Zhang DeFeng, a Chinese platform for personal development. For sometimes up to four hours, we would share personal development tools from famous worldwide teachers and intertwine our mother-daughter advice into each segment.

The Chinese market is exploding with interest in the personal growth field, the friend told us. My mom and I agreed; it would be great to host this camp in China at the end of our month-long family visit. I saw it as the perfect opportunity to share and empower other teens. But could we actually land this idea? We had no experience starting any kind of program for teens let alone hosting a sleep-away summer camp. It really was an operation of trust, passion, and the calling of our hearts to serve.

Somehow, this idealistic idea slowly started to turn into reality. We would host the camp in Shanghai, and my mom would teach in Chinese while I taught in English. During the camp, I would be an assistant to my mom. But during the preparation months beforehand, I would take the reins and put together the content of the four-day summer camp. Working late into the night, papers, notebooks, and electronics spread across the dinner table, I condensed multiple personal growth teachers into a format that would be fun for teenagers to learn.

There were long bouts of procrastination and some great Lofi music involved, but I sat down to work again and again. In a master Google Doc, I detailed the schedule down to every 30 minutes. I composed a 137 page handbook. There were days when I felt overwhelmed, unmotivated, and I really didn’t want to have that marketing call. But when I turned on the screen and saw the faces of so many hopeful parents, I just knew I had to give it my all.

A month before our camp was supposed to start, we faced a problem. Many of the 26 girls that signed up were too young to understand lessons in English. I would have to teach in Chinese. Not only that, but I was no longer the assistant. Instead, I become the main teacher since my mom would become the main teacher at our other camp in Shandong, China. (There was a demand for our camp there, and we had connections to make it happen. So the second camp was born.) I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t confident in my second language. I was angry at my mom and myself for getting into this.

In late May, after two days of traveling, my family landed in Shanghai, China. For a month we visited family, had huge get-together dinners, and traveled the country like tourists. The day before our camp started, my family drove to the campgrounds to set it up. We met with our volunteer team of 10 women from across the world aged 25-55 years old. Gracie Abrams and Beabadoobee blasted from my phone as I swept, mopped, and spread pink blankets on the floor. In a couple of hours, a boring classroom of chairs and desks was transformed into glowing pink with sashes on the ceiling and a flowery perfume in the air.

The next day the girls arrived. Time spun past, and every second was focused on doing my job well. When I wasn’t teaching, I was taking notes on things to improve. By the time day one was over, I wanted to collapse. I was someone with five eyes and three hands, and no time for myself. My ever-present smile slipped off my face; I called my dad and cried.

Day two went better. I still took down pages of notes on my phone, but I connected more with the girls. I taught more in flow, and the energy in the room became fun. That night, after gathering feedback from our team and the girls, I decided to redo the schedule for the last two days. The overwhelming consensus was they wanted more games and more free time. My original goals were for the girls to learn, make friends, and have fun. Goals one and two were met; now I needed to make goal three carry into the end of camp.

I stayed up until 2:00 A.M. adding more games, adjusting the content, and making sure the teaching would be no more than 10 minutes at a time. Day three I relaxed into my position and started to befriend some of the girls, a few of whom were just a year younger than I. Everyone called me “Teacher,” a term of respect in Chinese, even when I corrected them to call me “Sister,” a term less formal. I expanded and grew, and expanded and grew. My team trusted me completely. I adapted to different situations, the weather, not having enough materials, and videos not loading. My energy was contagious. At graduation, I shook so many hands, took so many photos, and hugged so many people while saying goodbye. I was also saying hello to a new part of myself. It was a success.

Don’t be afraid of the hard work. Find something you’re passionate about, and find a way to contribute. And most of all, have fun. Relax, work hard, and you’ll make it all possible.

(Above) Our summer camp included team bonding activities such as kayaking in groups of threes. It was incredible watching people who had never spoken to each other come back from the lake giggling and laughing like best friends. (Serena Young)
(Above) Our “classroom” set up was composed of four small groups with about six girls in each. There were team competitions to fill up their group’s jar of beads first, and on the last day they would use the beads to create friendship bracelets. (Serena Young)
(Above) I taught the Six Human Needs, a tool I learned from Tony Robbins, while the girls sat in a circle with us. While I spoke in Chinese, my mom wrote the notes in Chinese on our whiteboard. (Serena Young)
(Above) On day three, we had the girls barbecue a dinner for themselves. By that time, they developed a strong sense of trust and community. (Serena Young)
(Above) At the end of the camp, we had a closing ceremony where we invited all the parents to attend. Every girl gave a one minute speech on whatever topic she wished, and this was a huge breakthrough for some of them. (Serena Young)
(Above) One of the activities was creating DIY t-shirts. The girls were equipped with markers, ribbons, and sashes. We had a runway show where everyone got to show off their creations to the sounds of their friends cheering them on. (Serena Young)
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About the Contributor
Serena Young, Director of Photography
Serena Young is the Director of Photography of Lake Highland Preparatory School's Upper School newspaper Twice-Told Tale, a publication ranked first in the nation by American Scholastic Press Association. Young is the Co-founder of Athena Sisterhood, a community of over 1.6k women, and was a teen speaker at the Global Youth Mindset Summit. She has traveled to 30+ countries, volunteered over 1,500 hours of community service, and has 7M+ views on Google Reviews. Young started her personal development journey at the age of seven and has attended Tony Robbins's Unleash your Power Within, Global Youth Leadership, Business MasteryLeadership Academy, and Date With Destiny. When not taking a good nap, Young enjoys gourmet food, running long distance, watching award winning movies, and spending quality time with family and friends.

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