From Mount Vernon, Iowa, Gerhard is a six-year staff member at Waldsee. He began his Language Village experience as a villager in 1978, before Waldsee claimed its permanent home on Turtle River Lake. After the first two years on staff at Waldsee, his summer in Russia in 1983 changed the course of his life. The VW bus camping trip toured the eastern block, and in the company of 34 other students Gerhard visited Finland, the USSR, Georgia, the Ukraine, Poland, and Hungary. The adventure was enough to pry him away from Waldsee for half the summer in 1984 and 1985 to become a counselor at Lesnoe Ozero, the Russian Language Village.
The cultures at the two villages were and are as different as they are in the outside world. The Waldsee personality is one of organization and rules, says Gerhard, while life at Lesnoe Ozero stresses relationships and family. A family name assigned your first year as a villager stays with you throughout your entire journey at Lesnoe Ozero. Achievement at Waldsee is rewarded, and the language learning reflects this emphasis. Gerhard remembers days at Lesnoe Ozero as loosely structured, a place for conversation and exploration of Cold War issues, and the song prevalent and soulful.
For the next twelve years Gerhard continued his education, earning his master’s in German and his PhD in Russian literature, continuing to weave together these two passions. Following his studies, he worked in a publishing house and as an adjunct lecturer at George Washington University, and then spent six years as a journalist based in Berlin, Germany.
Gerhard took 20 years leave from the Language Villages, but the place and people never really left him. He returned to Waldsee in the summer of 2006 and in 2007 took the position of credit facilitator. This summer he has supervised ten credit teachers and 60 credit villagers in the pursuit of a full year of high school credit in German. Gerhard values the loyalty, friendships and continuity in his Waldsee community. He encountered new developments in the program upon his return – the environmental program, the medieval program, the film and theater adventure program…but his favorite moment this summer? “Opening day. The carnival atmosphere, the music, the tents, random counselors running around in native costume. It’s like the beginning of a musical or something, the stage is set, we’re ready to go.”