For 9 years I attended a sleep away camp in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. The camp was composed of mainly Jewish teenagers from the New York- New Jersey area who came from a decently wealthy family. Being at this camp, I often observed a lot of code switching occurring between the campers when it came to talking about money and spending it. Those who did have money, and wanted to spend it, came along with a certain lingo that included only talking about the best brands of clothes, the best restaurants to eat at and the best places to go on vacation.
At first, campers who were not use to such talk kept quite when conversations of weekends at the Hampton’s or expensive nights out in NYC came up. However, as the summer progressed, I could see the change in those campers that used to keep quite in these conversations. Pretty soon they too were talking about these lavish things too, pretending that they took part in them. Fake annual family trips to Aruba and pretend shopping sprees became the norm for many of their conversations.
I too found myself falling victim to this form of “camp code-switching” at times. Though my family and I did like to vacation and eat out, it was not to the extent that other campers made their experiences out to be. So instead of flying down to Florida for spring break to visit my grandparents, I was now taking a two-week cruise to the Bahamas, or so I said.
But why did we feel the need to code switch in these situations? Who was to say that the “rich kids” weren’t code switching themselves in hopes of getting our approval? Perhaps we all would have been better off being truthful from the start rather than try and act as someone we were not.
Looking back, I wish I been more honest from the beginning. I believe I had developed some friendships under false pretenses due to my use of code-switching and given people a false representation of who I really am. And this is the fear of using code switching: when we use it, we often lose who we are and instead become who we think others want us to be.