Trading Sandals for Snowboots

By: Julia-Rose Kibben


Julia-Rose (pictured center, above) is a 16-year-old junior at Convent of the Sacred Heart High School in San Francisco and has been a Tawongan for a decade. Last summer, Julia-Rose was a Specialist in Training at Camp. In this post, she reflects on her time last month at Tawonga’s first-ever Teen Winter Retreat with 40 other Tawongans, led by Associate Director Katie Quinn.


When I left Tawonga on a jet bus this past summer, I was convinced it was the last time I would come through that driveway for a very long time. So you can imagine my surprise, shock and overwhelming joy when I found out about Tawonga’s Teen Winter Retreat.


While I looked forward to this return to Camp, my friends and I began to anticipate the obvious differences this program might bring. For example, we exchanged sandals for snowboots, and bathing suits for beanies and mittens. Instead of tank tops, I packed an old snow jacket of my mom’s that my sister told me looked like a “queen-sized comforter.” We crossed swimming off of the schedule, and made room for sledding and snowball fights.


In the first hour of the retreat, I met brand-new Tawongans and reconnected with older friends I hadn’t seen since middle school. Despite not being initially close with some peers, by the end of the day, we were all able to connect over a good old-fashioned game of “I Love My Tawongan Who…” (Tawonga’s personal version of musical chairs).


We sat in a circle of chairs and began, someone always falling short of a place to sit and thus jumping into the middle of the group to share what they love about our fellow Tawongans. If the sentiment resonated with anyone seated, they ran around the circle again, scrambling for a new seat.


We ran around the dining hall, celebrating our hometowns, our favorite sports teams, past times and other characteristics we shared in common with one another.


Never in my Tawonga experience have I felt a connection with every single person at Camp. With 300 campers each session during the summer, the opportunity to connect with everyone simply by participating in a game of “I love my Camp Tawongan who…” is rare. In the moment, it might have been fun and silly, but looking back, it meant a lot more.


It’s scientifically proven that when one is cold, spending time with loved ones or participating in activities which bring feelings of joy can increase one’s body temperature by a few degrees.


In the summer, where we would have made space for s’mores around a fire, we made space for each other’s hands and feet, staying out of the cold in the dining hall after a low of nine degrees on the first night. I am quite sure that in the most ironic way possible, the Teen Winter Retreat provided some of the warmest moments of my time at Tawonga.




Read Julia-Rose’s blog post from last summer, “Tawonga Brain”.

More on the Teen Winter Retreat here.