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A Camp Community Is an Idyllic Place to Build Lifelong Skills

By Christine Schulze | Published: May 8, 2018

There are lots of ways to learn another language … online, one-on-one with a tutor, traveling abroad, in a homestay with another family, every day in school in a 40-minute class period. But there is also the option of language learning during the summer in a community-based setting, be it a language camp on a college campus or in an isolated immersion environment like Concordia Language Villages. There are numerous benefits to joining a small cohort of like-minded and equally motivated learners for a month or more. Living in a tightly knit community with your peers creates just the right milieu for taking risks in speaking a new language, but also in developing social skills at a critical age.

The word “community” derives from the Anglo-French communité, which encompasses the concept of common ownership. In a recent article about the emergence of virtual communities, Carina Chocano, a frequent contributor to the New York Times Magazine, writes, “There’s an association that still lingers between a ‘community’ and a physical location—the idyllic small town, say, or the utopian village, real or imagined. It evokes a cozy, friendly, simple place in which people live in easy harmony and cooperation, each with a role to play, each mattering to the whole.”

And that’s what camps are … communities that spring to life each summer. Camp staff, often with different backgrounds and sometimes from other cultures, come together around a nexus of shared values about work, play and living as a collective group. The camp focus may be purely recreational or it may concentrate on specialized skills. Regardless, campers choose to “give up” a week or month of their summer vacation to become a member of a fabricated community where they often take on new roles and responsibilities different from life at home.

German credit abroad students read a park map.

Last summer, Jackie Jacqueline Mauer interviewed students at Concordia Language Villages to better understand their motivations to learn a language in our intensive immersion environment. She conducted student focus groups midway through a four-week high school credit session. Jacqueline noted, “I sensed a palpable feeling of camaraderie and comfort among those gathered. Thoughts and observations flowed as the teens reflected openly and deeply on their experiences at the Villages. I was struck by how often they spoke of their personal growth and the social aspect of their time in the program.”

The teenagers obviously felt comfortable in their “camp community.” Their comments reflected their personal success in the camp setting and how this might flow into their relationships at home, in school and at work. They cited developing stronger social skills, enhancing their self-awareness and gaining personal confidence.

For example, one student said, “Here we build another family and another home for each other, and it’s a lot more than a classroom.” Another student indicated that “I’m usually an awkward and antisocial person, but I leave that person at home when I come to camp. I’m getting less awkward in real life now, too.”  Yet another noted, “We’re all practicing humility. No one is arrogant or showing off. People genuinely care about others’ well-being and language learning.”

Students’ stories of success in language learning were infused with comments about the interpersonal aspects of the camp community. Students had clear examples of building social and cultural skills that could easily translate into other areas of their lives.

After collecting all of the data, Jacqueline was able to summarize the multiple benefits of a cohort-style approach to learning language in a camp setting. “Speaking in a language that is not your first language is generally a bit scary, and that nervous feeling can create a mental block. Nerves are amplified or quieted by one’s environment. So when the students say that they don’t feel awkward, or that their peers don’t make them feel uncomfortable, they are describing what it feels like to be surrounded by a supportive family. In other words, they’re noting that they’re in an optimal environment where learning happens more readily, or naturally.”

A community-based setting, or a summer camp, allows teenage learners to get out of their comfort zone to explore new avenues of learning with a supportive group of friends. And there is a team of camp counselors in place to support their growth and development as young adults, allowing campers to build lifelong skills that extend far beyond a summer experience. That’s the power of camp.

About the Contributors

Headshot of Christine Schulze

Christine Schulze is the executive director of Concordia Language Villages. She started going to sleepaway camp at the age of eight, starting with Camp Fire Girls and then the Spanish Language Village. She's been involved in the camp profession as a staff member, camp director, and now administrator for over 40 years.

 

 

A headshot of Jacklyn Mauer

Jackie Jacqueline Mauer is the interim dean of Lac du Bois Hackensack. She has been involved in summer camp nearly all of her life, starting with the Girl Scouts of America's Camp Winding River in Wisconsin where she was a camper for seven years and a counselor for five. The summer of 2018 will be her 15th on staff at Concordia Language Villages, where she has acted as a counselor, administrator, teacher, researcher and curriculum writer. 

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