Fiona Griffin, a retired grandmother from Oakpark in Tralee, is and I quote, “having a whale of a time” over in the US at the moment where the 66-year-old is currently getting ready this week to welcome in an influx of kids for the summer to Camp Clearwater in Wisconsin where she is going to be working as an Activities Counsellor on a J1 visa until mid-August.
It is the realisation of a long-held dream for Fiona whom, ever since she was a teenager, has wanted to travel the world and live abroad but as these things go sometimes, life got in the way and instead the mother of four and grandmother to five beloved grandchildren, instead selflessly dedicated her life to helping others through teaching, mental health outreach and domestic violence work.
Now though, Fiona, who recently retired from her work with Adapt Kerry Women's Refuge, decided that now was the right time to seize the day and make her dreams a reality.
"My mother is 90 and has gone into a nursing home so that freed me up hugely to be able to come and do something like this. I knew that she was in the best place, a safe place and my brothers and sisters were around for the summer and I've always had the mad notion to do something like this and so here we are now!" she said speaking to The Kerryman.
"I just retired in April so now is the time to do this. I'm fit and able and healthy so I'm seizing the chance now. We never know what's going to happen to us in life so I said to myself 'this is my opportunity now to go' and that got the ball rolling,” she continued, adding that she found it very funny when she realised that the visa she had to apply for was the famous J1, most typically associated with college students over for the summer.
Fiona jetted off to the US earlier this month and was met there by a lovely couple called Sylvia and Keith Iver. Sylvia’s brother, a tour bus driver, had met the Ivers previously. They picked her up from the airport and dropped her off at Clearwater Camp where she was greeted by her fellow workers who she said that she has been amazing an amazing time with so far, despite some of them being nearly 40 years younger than her.
"All the girls are great. They have taken me under their wing and they sort of mind me!" she laughed
As to how she’s settling into camp life so far, Fiona – who had just returned from a 24 hour canoeing and camping trip when I spoke to her – said that while she does get a little homesick now and then, it’s so “full on” and busy all the time that she does not have time to get sad when thinking of home.
"I'm having a whale of a time! It's all going very well so far, the camp here is fabulous, the staff are amazing and the campers are arriving on Wednesday so I'm heading to Chicago on Tuesday with another Activities Counsellor to pick up some of the incoming campers from buses and from the airport so it's all very exciting,” she said.
"Overall, it's going very well and I'm absolutely loving it!” said Fiona, who’s most recent posts on her Instagram page where she is chronicling her US adventures show her learning canoe skills such as capsizing and righting the canoe.
Fiona’s adventures across the Atlantic will not end when she finishes up at the camp on August 14 though as she plans on staying over stateside for another week after this and she will be staying with new friends Keith and Slyvia at their home in Green Bay in Wisconsin.