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UT News

Camp Texas: From camper to counselor

Matt Portillo, a senior in the colleges of Liberal Arts and Fine Arts, recounts his experiences at Camp Texas, a three-day camp in the Texas Hill Country for incoming first-year students, coordinated by the Texas Exes. He attended Camp Texas as a freshman, and in August was a counselor for the incoming class of 2014.

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As my mom and I completed the early morning drive from the Dallas-Fort Worth area and arrived at the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center, I was pretty nervous. As an incoming first-year student at The University of Texas at Austin, I hadn’t attended summer orientation, so Camp Texas, the three-day welcome camp for incoming freshmen, was going to be my first real exposure to other students.

Walking in I didn’t know anyone else. I knew eventually I would have to go up to a complete stranger and say “Hi, my name’s Matt” — something I never had to do (nor would have done) in high school. But as I walked in, my reassurance came in the form of realizing every other camper was in the exact same shoes as me — totally out of their comfort zone and looking around for another friendly face to say “hello.” Before I even realized it, I was talking and laughing with dozens of other students and getting more out of my shell than I had ever expected.

For the next three days and two nights, I received the best introduction to the people and culture of the university. Camp Texas challenged me to examine myself in new ways and to develop a fresh perspective about my background and future goals at this important juncture in my life.

From the practical advice of professors to the beginnings of new relationships and the continued mentorship of my two then-upper-division counselors, the experience I received at Camp Texas launched me into my freshman year and started me on my UT journey. In time, it was this realization that made me decide I wanted to be a counselor and be a part of making the Camp Texas experience a reality for future students.

So this summer I finally had my opportunity to become a Camp Texas counselor. Being on the “other side” and having the chance to mentor and challenge a new group of Longhorns was truly a defining experience of my time here at UT, and it’s one I’ll remember for years to come.

As I head into my final year at UT and look back, I can hardly express how thankful I am not only for Camp Texas and the important role that it played in my transition from one chapter of my life to the next, but also for the Texas Exes, who, year after year, devote their resources to crafting a program for incoming classes of Longhorns.

Camp Texas remains one of my most cherished experiences during my time here on the Forty Acres, and I’m so grateful I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of its story. It has truly shaped mine.