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Good Reads: Off the Shelf: "You’re Sending Me Where?"—Life and Fun at Summer Camp

By Patricia Thornton | Published: April 18, 2017

Mention summer camp in a conversation and most adults spontaneously begin to recall summertime days filled with fun activities, sunburns and mosquitoes. Probe a little further and many begin to conjure memories of dear friendships and lifetime role model counselors. Push a little harder, and out come the stories of multiple pranks, some quirky fellow campers  and a few eccentric staff. In his new book, You’re Sending Me Where? (University of Minnesota Press), author Eric Dregni takes a deep dive into the latter aspects of life at camp as he weaves story after story of well-intended, but frequently just-saved-from-disaster escapades.

Dregni’s memories of his own youthful camper experiences, such as undercooked hobo foil-packet meals, roasted marshmallows tinged with bug spray and adolescent boys who refuse to shower at camp, were prologue to his current adult role as a camp director. Vivid recollections of his tearful reluctance to leave his mom and “get on the camp bus” for his first foray to a day camp as a 6-year-old, and the apprehension he experienced as a first-time camper, allow him to become a very empathic leader of children. "For 10 years, I have watched the kids get off the bus in culture shock and suffering gut-wrenching homesickness. I was once one of the kids, and now I am the camp director.”

Eric Dregni
Eric Dregni is dean of the Italian
Language Village and author of such books
asVikings in the AtticIn Cod We Trust
 and Never Trust a Thin Cook.

And, as the dean of Lago del Bosco, the Italian Language Village at Concordia Language Villages, he agrees at the start of one session to dress up as Cleopatra in a bloodily misguided staff-planned skit reenacting the murder of Julius Caesar; yet, it does the trick to make sobbing homesick campers forget about their mothers as they watch the camp director cavort in a flowing tunic and wig.

The job of a camp director is not unlike that of a small town mayor. There are budgets, committees, standards, rules, inspections, disputes, deliveries … everything a city manager might deal with, but in a short, hot squeeze of time. And, with kids! Dregni is able to laugh, and not cry, when just before the arrival of campers and parents on opening day the head lifeguard institutes a missing camper drill and parents get full views of staff stripped to their underwear dragging the lake at the same moment the State Health Inspector drops by for a surprise visit. He takes it in stride when his staff become enervated and muddle-headed upon the breakdown of their beloved cappuccino machine, even preferring to laze on mouse-infested staff house furniture over playing soccer with the children. He is able to calmly keep it together when his Italian staff arrive for work in their Dolce and Gabbana T-shirts and Versace sunglasses and fret about getting dirty by the campfire.

Dregni specializes in describing the detail of human interaction. His stories of discouraging camp romances, love triangles, how to deal with staff who melt down over bats, cabin-to-cabin antics (and revenge) are witty and engaging and make the reader both reminisce and feel a part of the whole scene.

The big themes of camps are all there—cool kids, shy kids, poignant interludes, nerdy staff, the drop-dead gorgeous counselor, persistent parents, discovery, learning, beautiful days and star- and campfire-lit nights. But the biggest theme is transformation. Underlying his hilarious camp chronicles is the message of the transformative power of camps. Beginning with his personal transformation from reluctant camper to an enthusiastic camp director, Dregni’s inescapable conclusion is that camp is about growth and change.

Villagers at the Italian Language Village
Villagers and staff at Lago del Bosco dressed up as Roman senators.

"Camp is life compressed,” one of Dregni’s colleagues has told him. And, it is. All camps are intentionally fun. They’re meant to be. But that same focus on intentional fun, that lures staff from across the world to teach, to laugh with, to comfort, to influence and to play with children, also creates innumerable opportunities for zany interpersonal situations. All the foibles, needs, drama and humor of life are stuffed into a few fast-moving, hot summer weeks. So not only are camps intentionally fun, but they are some of the most unintentionally funny places on earth.

Dregni has nailed that reality in You’re Sending Me Where?

About the Author

Patricia Thornton

Patricia Thornton is the former director of the summer programs of Concordia Language Villages and currently serves as a clinical supervisor for world language teaching candidates at the University of Minnesota. She has delivered workshops on the topics of language and culture education nationally and internationally including for the American Schools in the Middle East, the University of Oregon, Indiana University and the SHAPE School in Belgium.

Thornton has also worked for years as a public school teacher and with collaborative teacher education at the University of Minnesota-College of Education and Human Development. The Language Villages has been a central part of her life from her first year on staff at Mori no Ike in 1988 to her current leadership position as one of two Village Mentors, a term used to denote an expert in language and cultural immersion.

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