Back in 2008, my parents brought up the idea of a camp called Saint Seraphim's to me and I shot it down. I had never spent more than one night away from home, and forcing me to go to some camp I’ve never heard of sounded ridiculous. So I told them that I’d go next year, that way I can push aside their constant questions and be left alone.

2009 came around and this time, my parents didn’t really give me a choice. I had said “next year” and they took me seriously. So, surprise!! We registered you for camp!! I thought it was a funny joke until summer came and I realized they were serious. Maybe if we just don’t bring it up, the topic will subside and there’ll be no mention of this place.

At last, I was forced to pack my bags and listen to my parents’ countless stories of their summer camps back in Russia. Eventually, the day came and my parents dropped me off in the middle of the woods. I didn’t understand what genius idea they had and why they thought it would work out. Who sends a shy 10-year-old girl to a place where she only knows two people, neither of whom are in her group?

But that day, the counselors found two other girls for me to tent with for the week. One of whom became the greatest friend I’ve ever had in my life. On the last day, I cried after saying goodbye to my new best friend. The week went by so fast and I loved every minute of it. Little did I know that 8 years later, she’d still be the closest person I have.

Throughout my 9 years of camp, I have grown immensely in my spiritual life. The clergy have taught me countless lessons through our Law of God talks and inspired me to be a better person. I have made so many incredible friendships and grown up with the people that have gone with me every year. My friends are my soul sisters, the people who keep me going at the worst points in my life.

I never thought that St. Seraphim’s would change my life the way it did, but oh am I so blessed that I have this beautiful place to call home for a week every year. It is such a blessing to escape reality for one week with other like-minded people.

Camp makes you stop and think for once. When was the last time you stopped to look at the stars at night? Named the constellations? Listened to the sound of the crickets? How often do you get to roast Smores and warm up by the bonfire on a chilly night while sitting under a blanket with your tentmates?

You get to see the true beauty our souls reflect. You see your tentmate's messy hair and no makeup mornings in oversized warm pajamas and drag yourselves up on a morning trek up the stairs that leaves you out of breath.

The moments I cherish are the ones when we grab tea and coffee together and stand on the porch of the mess hall, huddling together for warmth on a cold morning. Those are the times that I wish I could freeze and keep forever. The days of tubing down the river with your group and trying not to get carried away by the current. You can’t help laughing at how ridiculous your friends look during the camp Olympic games. And even though you are so embarrassed, these are some of the moments you’ll fondly look back on at the end of the week.

Before we know it, it’s Friday. We’re screaming our favorite songs at the top of our lungs on each other’s shoulders when YMCA plays at the camp dance. It’s times like those conga limes that run outside and back into the mess hall that you swear your heart could burst from happiness.

Then it’s church time and all you can think of is how beautiful the service is but how heartbreaking it is to think that our time is coming to an end. Those late night capture the flag games scared the life out of us, but now we look back and laugh out heads off when we reminisce about how crazy that night was.

This camp creates life-long friendships that don’t depend on how far or close you might be, because you know that the bonds you form with your best friends will never break. So thank you to the incredible camp staff for watching me grow into a college student who finished her first year as a junior counselor, when you remember the first day a skeptical little girl with messy brown hair walked through the mess hall doors on her very first day at camp.