WorldView: A Language Blog

WorldView is a place for leaders in the fields of language education, global citizenship, immersion learning and other topics central to the Concordia Language Villages mission to address issues important to their fields.

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Creating Community at Camp in a COVID World

By Dr. Mollie Nelson and Candace Kretchmar | Published: October 19, 2021

COVID-19 has changed the world in many ways, but since March 2020 it has served up an ultimate challenge to those in the camp world, including Concordia Language Villages. Inspiring courageous global citizens through a grand simulation experience is the mission of our program. Bringing people from all around the world to a secluded remote Village setting where they are able to spend 24/7 immersed with each other and the culture is an inspirational approach, and one that has undoubtedly changed the course of many lives. But in the midst of a global pandemic, a camp setting is also quite the set-up for an infectious disease nightmare!  

To ensure camps could run safely, all camp directors had to rethink nearly every aspect of the tried and true “camp ways.” Everything, including decades-old camp traditions, needed to be examined through a health and wellness lens. This obviously created challenges on every level, yet at the same time, it also gave staff license to try new ways of doing things that allowed their resilience and creativity to shine.

At the Villages, we began planning in earnest last fall for the summer of 2021. We laid out a master plan that included such things as pre-arrival symptom monitoring, “closed Villages,” limiting gathering sizes, and diagnostic testing. We would create a template for moving forward, and then everything could change the following week, given what had just occurred in a world faced with an ever-evolving global pandemic. We did this time and time again over the course of 12 months.

Our main health protocols included maintaining a closed Village, working in small pods for the first five days, doing as much as possible outdoors, wearing masks, maintaining distance and scheduled testing. In each Village, staff members worked to understand what it meant to teach a world language while wearing masks. Skogfjorden dean Tove I. Dahl explains, “language research has taught us that much of what we hear is about what we see and what we expect.” Being intentional about volume and speed, our use of facial expressions and gestures, our techniques for grabbing attention or reading contextual clues allows us to expand our communication toolkits. We become even better at connecting, and grow our understanding of what communication means for those who rely on visual cues, rather than spoken language, to bond with others. 

This past summer, from the development of an on-site laundry curriculum in the target language to community work projects, we learned vital lessons about self-regulation, community and caring for others. Villages created their own unique systems for managing small pods. Some staff even found a sense of play, creatively  incorporating geography into their pod design. As group sizes were able to  increase, those assigned to urban center pods were able to combine with other pods  to create suburbs and, from there, regions. Eventually as they moved through the protocols, an entire country came together as a Village. While smaller living groups presented a change to the usual routine, Villages ultimately found that these intimate and cohesive small groups fostered solid relationships. Borders that may have previously existed between ages, genders and language abilities were blurred in positive and productive ways.

To some, the protocols felt strict; but to many staff and participants, knowing these were in place allowed them to feel confident that they were safe. Villagers arrived having had many different kinds of experiences behind them (read these interviews to get just a flavor of what the year was like for some kids last year). Many parents reported that this summer their children were able to have their first normal life experience in over a year while at a Village session. Some described how childhood joy and light had returned to their children’s eyes when they picked them up from camp.  

So how will this all play out in 2022? None of us know. What we do know is that through careful planning and creativity, we can keep our camps open and going strong all across the country. As we continue forward, we find there are many lessons to be learned by looking to the example of others who have found innovative ways to adapt and grow during this period of uncertainty. Check out links below to explore how living and learning in a changed world presented many challenges to all of us, but also some interesting opportunities.

In From Teachers to Custodians, Meet the Educators Who Saved A Pandemic School Year, discover inspiration in the many ways educators rose to meet challenges for, and with, their students. 

My Fellow Americans, Let’s Be Better Tourists finds a moment of reflection in the pandemic, and offers suggestions for traveling more mindfully as we reset. 

These 12 Innovators Are Transforming The Future Of Education showcases projects in Africa, India and Asia Pacific that focus on providing equitable access for students being left behind, investing in teachers’ development, or equipping students with the skills they will need in 2030.

In Courageous Global Citizenship during COVID-19, Della Duncan, Regenerative Economist and former Sjölunden Swedish Language villager and staff member, invites us to consider lessons learned during COVID-19. 

Finally, as the American Camping Association’s Summer 2021 Camp Recap puts it, “Summer 2021 is in the books, and if summer 2020 taught us anything, it’s that camp is more valuable than ever.” 

About the Authors

Dr. Mollie Nelson has over twenty years of experience focused on global health education. Her career began as a trauma/ER nurse in the Air Force and since then she has obtained graduate degrees in ethnobotany, medical anthropology and nursing education. She has conducted research in the U.S. and in a wide range of cross-cultural healthcare settings including herbal medicine in Kyrgyzstan and traditional medical practices in Guatemala. Along with being the Associate Director of Health and Wellness at Concordia Language Villages, she teaches medical terminology and pathophysiology at Austin Community College and at AOMA Graduate School of Integrative Medicine.

Candace Kretchmar joined Concordia Language Villages in 2020 as the Villager and Staff Health Coordinator. She brings a lifetime love of languages and outdoor exploration as well as more than a decade of experience in K-5 education working in alternative schools, outdoor programming and public school settings. She has extensive experience working with special needs, trauma and mental health issues, as well as the coordination of student supports and accommodations.

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