Sophie Hollis is a marketing executive at BUNAC. We asked her to spare some time in her busy schedule to chat to us - and she did!
This was hands-down one of our favourite interviews because Sophie has been on loads of summer camps so she really knows BUNAC inside and out. She even let us dig into her personal life when we started asking about romance!
What does BUNAC do?
Since 1962, BUNAC has been a leading expert in offering overseas work, intern and volunteer experiences - all around the world! Our programmes span 5 continents; we have summer programmes like Summer Camp USA, working holiday programmes in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. We have opportunities with professional internships, plus volunteering with animals in South Africa and teaching English as a Foreign Language in Asia - I could go on!
What does your job involve?
I work across all online and offline marketing [including working with The Career Break Site] for the UK and US markets. I write the BUNAC weekly newsletters to our customers and promote our opportunities to university careers advisers. I work on our SEO ranking for Google, I attend events, deliver presentations and hold consultations representing BUNAC, and I work with online advertisers on referral websites and PR agencies to promote BUNAC programmes. I get to work on some amazing projects and gain experience in all areas of marketing which is a fantastic job. I can’t even begin to explain to you everything I’ve learnt!
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
OK, so I'll take you back to 2013.
When I was 18 I decided to spend my summer in the USA. I’d worked really hard at school and in my Saturday job and I wanted to throw myself into a different experience before I started uni. So, in September of my final year of A-Levels I started my Summer Camp USA application with BUNAC and I got hired at the Summer Camp Recruitment Fair in London in January 2013. I felt on the top of the world.
My job for the summer was working at a girl scouts' camp in East Hampton, New York. I was going to be a Lifeguard and swimming teacher – I come from a competitive swimming background, so I had previous experience in teaching. I'm also from East London so when I arrived in East Hampton it was like a whole new world for me! I wasn't sure what to expect.
The whole experience of summer camp was really really amazing because I received my university results while I was in America, so all my friends at camp stayed up together to get our uni results. We sat together waiting for an email from UCAS to come, and we all opened them at the same time. When I got into the one I wanted [Queen Mary University of London to study English Literature and History] we celebrated so hard. It was very emotional and one of the best moments of my life!
And you went back to camp didn't you?
Yeah! I did a couple of weeks of travelling after camp ended, then I went to uni and immediately reapplied to go back to summer camp for the following summer. There was no question in my mind that I would be back.
I went back the next summer and I was a general camp counsellor - although I love teaching swimming, I wanted to be around the kids as much as I could and interact with them all the time. As a counsellor, you're with them from dawn to dusk and entertain them all day. It's what I got most enjoyment from at camp, so that's what I wanted to do in my second year.
And then I decided to go back for a third summer the following year! A lot [of BUNAC workers] do 2 or 3 summers and some have done 4 or 5. A couple of my colleagues have been 10 times! They catch “the camp bug” and go year after year.
Tell us about your third summer and your promotion
In my third summer I was promoted to assistant unit leader, which involved managing 10 to 12 staff, looking after them, setting their goals for the summer and having weekly meetings. I was in charge when the unit leader was off, so at those times, I was in charge of 30 children and all the staff. This was a pretty big responsibility but I enjoyed every moment, and it gave me great experience of leadership and management.
It was really rewarding to start off as a beginner and grow to be one of the leaders at camp. I'm really proud of my achievements there! I was quite young but I took that responsibility very seriously and had a good relationship with all of the children and all of the staff – I always try to build a good relationship with people. Camp definitely made me into a more confident person than I was. It helped me interact with people from all ages and walks of life, and this is a skill that I use every day in my personal and work life.
Did you really like ALL the kids?!
Yeah, I really did! American kids are pretty funny and at camp it’s important to not take yourself too seriously. Like anything, when you're around kids for up to 6 weeks obviously all sorts of situations can happen, but it’s important to stay happy and energised.
What happened after that?
After my final summer I went into my final year at uni. I graduated in June and wanted to do something that involved my love for writing and English and my love for travel.
I knew BUNAC very well from my camp experiences and I loved the idea of inspiring and helping other people have the same experience I had on a BUNAC programme. So, I reached out to them when I saw an ad for a marketing internship on their website. I found out that I got the internship a few weeks later. Then I started my first day in the BUNAC head office in London in early July 2016.
The internship lasted for 3 months. It started as 2 days a week then progressed to about 5 days a week, then a position came up for a Junior Marketing Executive. I got that job and started working for BUNAC full time. I was then promoted to being a Marketing Executive and I’ve been working for BUNAC ever since. It's been an unbelievable experience already and such an amazing progression for me. What a learning curve!
What's your favourite part of your job?
I think my favourite part of my job is meeting people at events, meeting students, careers advisers. That's when you really realise the impact of what you're doing on other people. It makes the job worth it just for that alone.
There have been a few occasions when I've met a person at an event, interviewed them for summer camp and literally followed them from when they find out about BUNAC to when they go on the programme and they come back and thank me for what they say is an incredible experience. That's something pretty amazing to be part of, to be honest.
What sort of person goes on a BUNAC programme?
People are usually aged between 18 to 25. That's a typical age but on certain programmes we can cater for people up to the age of 35 so there's a wide age range where we can help people. Our volunteering programmes are particularly great for older travellers because the eligibility is 18 plus, so people can come any age.
I tend to see a lot of 16- and 17-year-olds who are desperate to go to Australia and New Zealand, and a lot who are interested in getting career experience whilst they travel on our professional internship programmes, and a lot who are interested in volunteering, which is really cool.
What kinds of questions do they ask?
They ask how much will it cost, will it help their future career, they ask if and how they going to meet people and make new friends, they ask questions about how to get a job in that country (can they get a job before they arrive), questions around that.
I do get a lot of random questions! A guy asked if he could take his bike to camp, in Arizona! I said we wouldn't recommend it and he could ask camp if they could lend him a bike. I can't judge, he just really loves his bike!
What memorable career breakers have you seen?
I'm trying to think of all the people I've interviewed! In the past I've interviewed individuals with learning difficulties or special needs who were worried that they wouldn’t be able to have the same experience working abroad because of this. They believed that their options of where they could go and the fields they could work in would be limited – but it’s not.
We believe everyone should be able to travel and see the world. Some people have come from a hard place [in their home life] and going on a BUNAC programme has given them confidence. It’s given them belief in themselves and what they can achieve, and this is the best feeling ever – especially as I was there with them from the beginning of their journey.
So... tell us about BUNAC romances! Including yours!
There has been a lot of romance throughout BUNAC's history!
I met my other half working at camp, and we're still together 4 years later! She's from New York. It was a holiday romance that has extended to a long-distance relationship! I've got the IEC visa for Canada and I'm moving to Toronto to be in the same time zone as her. We'll only be an hour's flight (or a 12 hour megabus ride) away!
My colleague met his other half on our Work America programme – it's a paid summer job working in hospitality roles in resorts, country clubs and restaurants across the USA. His partner moved to London to be with him from America. They've been together for four years too!
There's been a few people who've reached out to us and said they've met on one of our programmes and got married and had a kid! We sent their baby a BUNAC bib or onesie, which I think is really cute.
What is your advice for career breakers?
My advice would be to if you ever feel that you're stuck in a rut or that you're living the same day over and over, then the best way to reenergise your life and ignite a bit of passion is to move abroad, do something that scares you and pushes you out of your comfort zone. You shouldn't look back in 10 or 20 years and say “I wish I had done that”.
Also, some of our programmes have no age limit [like BUNAC's volunteering programmes] – so even if you're 30 or older you've still got lots of opportunities. Make the most of them, see where it gets you!
Tell us a secret
That's a good question! Japan is the hottest destination of the year, everyone is wanting to go there right now! We're really excited about that because we've just launched a Work Japan programme which is making waves!
Another travelling secret of my own would be is that I don’t think you need to pack any more than 60 litres of luggage for any type of travelling you’re doing, even if you're going somewhere for 2 years. The lighter you pack the more souvenirs you can buy.
Anything else you'd like to share?
Summer Camp USA genuinely completely changed my life. I did it for three summers, and even if you don't work your way up the ranks you should do it, it's the best thing you could ever do! It will give you independence, help you meet people from all around the word, give you life-long friendships and it makes you realise you find out more about yourself as a person, taking yourself away from home and away from your comfort zone!
It opens your eyes to the world! I just can't wait for you to do it!
Thanks so much to Sophie for sharing so much of her life with us - and you! She owns the copyright to all the photos on this post. If you'd like to work on a summer camp like Sophie did, or do another of BUNAC's work or volunteer programmes, head on over to their website to find out more.