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Pacific edition, Wednesday, August 8, 2007

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Identification cards, uniforms and chow halls.

When the 47 Camp Adventure counselors arrived at Camp Foster earlier this summer, it was like stepping onto another planet, they said.

“It’s completely different from school,” said Jessica Kayse, 21, a student from Bowling Green State University in Ohio. “In school, you can pretty much do your own thing. But not here.”

Each summer since 1985, college students from across the United States have descended on U.S. military bases overseas to educate, entertain and mentor children of servicemembers. Known as Camp Adventure, the day camp gives many of its counselors their first exposure to the military.

And many experience culture shock.

“I have to look like a man,” Kayse said about the dress code for going to a mess hall, which doesn’t allow women to wear certain items of clothing that are acceptable at college.

On having a conversation with a military friend, she said “it always seems like they speak in numbers and letters. They speak in this language we don’t understand.”

The counselors said they are aware they stand out and feel like people stare at them wherever they go on base.

“We are known as ‘those college girls,’” said Sara Blymyer, 22, director of Camp Foster’s Camp Adventure and a graduate student at the University of Arizona. Of the 47 counselors, 41 are women.

The counselors are unpaid volunteers. They receive free housing, mess and base privileges and a $22-a-day stipend to help with costs. Blymyer said she started working at Camp Adventure because it was an opportunity to travel.

But the best part of Camp Adventure, Blymyer said, is interacting with the kids. The worst part is going home broke.

“It’s just one of those things you expect, but it’s totally worth it,” Blymyer said.

As for dealing with military personnel, Kayse said that, for the most part, Marines at Camp Foster have been “extremely respectful” to her. She said the treatment that she and her fellow counselors have received in Okinawa is far better than what they receive in the States.

Blymyer has volunteered for the program four times, but this year will be her last, she said.

She has applied to work in the Department of Defense Dependents Schools system. She sees working at DODDS as “a way to give back” to military families. She hopes to return to Okinawa.

“I love to work with children of military personnel,” she said.

On Aug. 18, the counselors will return to the States to continue school. Blymyer said there will be a lot of tears that day, something many counselors wouldn’t have expected at the beginning of summer.

“They never realized how attached to the kids they would be.”

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