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Powerful Arrivals and Community Stays

By Patricia Thornton | Published: July 29, 2016

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”  – Henry Miller

Helping villagers develop a new perspective and a new global view is never left to chance. And it all starts on the first day of a Village session. 

Arriving at Concordia Language Villages is a signature experience and those first moments and next few hours set the stage for the stay. Approaching the Village ‘gate’ indicates to villagers that once they cross the border, they are entering a special place where they will join a community of language and culture explorers. They will, in fact, become citizens of the Village. 

Arrival at the Village simulates travel abroad with passport checks and stamps, and a customs check of luggage to remove any English-influenced materials.

All travelers know that the first hours in a new city or country can be confusing and overwhelming. For young villagers, the moment of entrance to the Village is no different. It is critical that the welcome be affirming, warm, fun, and powerful. It is equally important that upon seeing the Village, villagers feel a sense of curiosity and a desire to belong. In a recent psychological study, researchers found that “to belong is to matter.” The authors found a strong positive correlation between a sense of belonging and meaningfulness. Social relationships provide an important sense of belonging, and belongingness helps people find more meaning in life (Lambert et al., 2013). The ultimate intent of the Language Villages is to ensure that all villagers feel that they personally matter in a meaningful journey toward global citizenship that continues even beyond their session. 

As with any trip abroad, travelers to the Language Villages change their US money into the appropriate currency of their Village culture(s).

Like all elements of a Village experience, the arrival day is carefully orchestrated and implemented by staff to allow villagers to enter into the learning community, fully aware of the newness and foreignness of the environment, yet not be intimidated by it. To effect that goal, several backstage steps (cf. Heidi Hamilton’s post Creation of a Playworld at Concordia Language Villages) are required. 

Upon registering for a Village session, participants receive a passport that both creates an anticipatory mindset and serves as their entry document into a new world of language learning, cultural acquisition and play. It also reinforces the excitement and comfort of joining an appealing learning community. 

As the session draws closer, villagers receive a letter of welcome from the Village dean that frames what they can expect in the program that summer. On the arrival day itself, villagers employ all five senses as they find the Village gates wide and colorfully open with music blaring, cultural activities in full view, food to sample, staff at the ready to assist and engage them in the ethos and spirit of the Village. After they pass through customs, and throughout the next few hours, villagers meet their cabin mates and counselors, become oriented to the Village, unknowingly undergo a language check, say goodbye to parents, have their first culturally authentic cuisine at dinner, and first Village campfire and song time as the night draws near.  Importantly, all villagers give themselves a new name representative of their Village language and culture. The choice of a new name is a singularly important aspect of the Language Villages program. This naming act gives villagers the opportunity to try on a new persona. It is a chance to reinvent themselves in ways that are both freeing and empowering, and in ways that might redefine who they are, or how they have previously seen themselves, as learners, as players, and as (world) citizens (cf. Mark Chen’s post Hello! My name is …). 

Villagers experience culturally authentic cuisine and dining customs from the first evening.

Opening day at the Village is a distinguishing feature of the grand simulation, one of the four precepts of the Villages’ foundational statement, the CLVway. This unique language and culture learning methodology that imagines and creates a stay abroad requires that entry into the program be commensurately powerful and remarkable. Arriving is a deeply consequential experience that is intentionally constructed to evoke a sense of belonging and of excitement in each villager, and a realization that ‘not only do I belong to this Village, this cabin, this learning group, but also to the world. It is mine to explore and learn. And, I matter; what I do, matters!’ It all begins with the first steps into the Village. 

Lambert, N, Stillman, T. F., Hicks, J. A., Kamble, S., Baumeiter, R. F., Fincham, F. D. (2013). Belong is to matter: Sense of belonging enhances meaning in life. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39, 1418-1427.

About the Author

Patricia Thornton is the former director of the Language Villages’ Summer Programs 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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