Finding Home
Finding comfort in a community full of alternatively educated folks and truly feeling like I belong

It took me 14 years to find my home, and it wasn’t for lack of trying.

Growing up unschooled I always felt like I was behind and held back from the potential I could always feel beneath my surface. It felt like it could burst out of me at any moment, but I just couldn’t find my catalyst. I have always been an artist, and a lover of creation overall, but unschooling wasn’t giving me the level of community that I so desperately needed.

I had never found much good media in favor of alternative education, and all of the meetups and co-ops I attended still pushed me to prepare for a society that I frankly wasn’t thrilled for in the slightest. I didn’t hold much value in going to college; as I felt I would simply be witnessing all of the life experiences I could have had when I was younger. I romanticized school so much because the “coolest” people I had met had gotten traditional educations and had that constant community around them.

I was deeply envious of those connections. So when I was 14 and one of the moms in my new homeschool group suggested a “homeschool summer camp,” I jumped at the opportunity.

I have always poured all of my energy into things, so once this caught my attention, I learned everything I could about Not Back To School Camp. By the time me and my parents flew to Oregon to drop me off at this fascinating place, there wasn’t a single page of the website I hadn’t read through at least 3 times.

Despite the website speaking of giving the campers a lot of freedom and all of these opportunities to truly own their creativity and autonomy, I was wary of it. I had been disappointed before by supposedly “child focused” classes and co-ops; they always seemed more focused on distracting us rather than caring about our experiences as alternatively-educated youth. Those experiences had been a source of annoyance for me, and I wondered if I was setting myself up to experience the same thing once more.

I don’t believe I can properly describe how this camp entirely changed everything for me.

The staff and campers wholeheartedly listened to and respected me. That brewing potential I had always felt finally burst out in ways I didn’t even know were possible. It was unbelievable to see that the community I had thought I would never get had been there for decades. Like a key finally unlocked the door that I had been sitting outside of for those 14 years.

Aside from mandatory meetings in the mornings and evenings and a mini meeting they call advisee, (where you check in with the same group of about 10 campers and one staffer every morning), I was free to choose whatever I would like to do with my day. Workshops led by both campers and staffers happened throughout the day, As did planned events that you could partake in or skip in favor of whatever suited your interests best. I found my true love for the outdoors there, falling asleep in the field with the sun kissing my face on a near daily basis.

I ended up going to this camp six different times and always finding new pieces of joy with each visit. Camp cultivates this ultimate feeling of belonging that I have been striving to recreate wherever I have gone ever since my first session. I gained an understanding of how much freedom I was actually given as an unschooler and learned how to harness it into the things I am truly passionate about. Camp also helped me learn at a young age how to manage my own schedules, find motivation to do things that I wanted to do, and even bring others along for the ride with me.

In my later years I led a bunch of my own workshops. (Workshops are hour-long slots that you can schedule in whatever your heart desires). Some of my notable workshops include: Love Language and Human Connection (a camper favorite!), Camp Culture with the Culminati (me and my fellow camp graduates from 2023 explaining the camp culture to folks who were interested), and Hey! I have a book by the way! (reading my poetry book out loud to people and explaining my process and feelings behind the writings). Camp brought me the confidence to be able to fully put myself out there and to share the things I am passionate about.

I find that Not Back to School Camp really understands how to cultivate human connection and the feeling of community.

I have found people there who are now my family, and I cannot imagine my life without their light in it.

One of the ways camp does this is with a specific event: Bonding Night, an event led by a staffer or two plus a committee of campers who volunteer.. (It’s also entirely optional to attend!) Bonding Night is a beautiful display of learning about people, friend or stranger, and having the chance to show your love for them, and receive that same love yourself. We begin by pairing everyone up with one partner, and then reading out a few questions that each person gets about a minute to respond to. It is your job to both share and listen and truly give your partner all of your attention. One of my favorite additions this past year was this set of three questions: “Who are you?” “Who do you pretend to be?” and “Who do you think I am?” The first two are asked by the listener, and then after the speaker answers both of those, the speaker asks the final one. I got the pleasure of being paired with one of the staffers, Nathen, for this exercise. Seeing how someone perceives themselves and then getting to show them your own view of the person in front of you is a truly beautiful experience that I will never forget. While I know myself very well, finding out how I was viewed by someone I admired genuinely brought me to tears.

Later on in this event we form a large circle where we turn to the person beside us and say one thing to them that we wish someone would say to us. The final part of this exercise is called unconditional love, where campers have the opportunity to receive consensual anonymous hugs from the group. As the name suggests, this is an incredibly loving experience. I still get goosebumps when I think about it.

I am being entirely honest when I say that I found out what love was at this camp. It is consuming and in everything I see now. The absolute authenticity of everyone being their true selves without worry of judgment or being seen as strange is so deeply human; it has made me into everything I am today. I could not have decided a better way to spend my time than going there.

The creativity and joy that these campers spark has gone on for longer than I’ve been alive, and I hope it will continue past my time as well. Seeing people younger than I was when I first attended, having the space to fully express themselves and find and share what brings them joy gave me all the reassurance I could ever need about being unschooled. We need more spaces like NBTSC for everyone in this world, for everyone to experience the belonging like I did all those years ago and even now to this day.

In 2022 camp reopened after being closed for the pandemic. I found myself reinvigorated with the same passion I had felt my first year to make sure that the nearly 80 new campers would experience the space as I did. I was worried that it would never be the same, but I was amazed at how even throughout the pandemic, the people who make camp the place that it is were still there. I couldn’t describe the relief I felt when I realized that it wasn’t all just a dream and I wasn’t crazy for going on the life path that I had worried about all those years ago.

It was like I finally got to come home.

I’m 19 now and have officially graduated from Not Back to School Camp, hopefully to start staffing this year. I realized how passionate I am about cultivating spaces that support unschoolers themselves, and I hope to always work with organizations that do just that!

This long ramble-y blog post is to express the excitement and joy I hold for the place that made me like alternative education and all the opportunities it gave me in my life. I would be nowhere near the person I am today without finding NBTSC, and I would wholeheartedly recommend checking them out, along with The Teenage Liberation Handbook written by the camp’s creator, Grace Llewellyn.

Here is the link to this wonderful camp if you’d like to check it out. :)

Thank you for reading,

-Ophelia June

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