I've left the Villages twice, but couldn't stay away. Here's why.
I mentioned in passing to one of my professors that I was going to camp this weekend, and she said, 'I can’t believe you still do that.' It got me thinking -- why DO I keep going back?
2016 will be my sixth summer, so I am by no means a 'lifer,' at least not yet. But that does qualify me as highly experienced. And comparing myself against other long-term staff, I am kind of the exception in that I was never a villager in the summer program, and my summers worked were non-consecutive. I worked three summers, did something else for a summer, worked one more summer, got a 'real' job, and then came back for summers when I started graduate school. Again, I ask myself why.
So, here goes:
Working at CLV has taught me how to be an adult. My first summer, I arrived at orientation just days after graduating from high school. At my graduation, the main point of the principal’s speech was to stress that just because we had finished high school did not mean we were adults. Two days later, I was thrust into a position where I was the adult in literally every situation, responsible for the care and keeping of other people’s children. In French. It was intimidating, and it was difficult; but at the same time, I didn’t have to do it alone. There was a network of people, and experiences and expertise from which to draw. Any problem that I encountered, there was someone who had had a similar problem and could help.
It taught me responsibility. Within that network of staff, everyone has specific responsibilities. If any one person isn’t where they are supposed to be at a given time, or if any one person fails to fulfill their responsibilities, everyone is impacted. I learned to think of how my actions contribute to, or detract from, the whole, leading me to become a more responsible and accountable person.
It taught me how to teach. Teaching at CLV is different than teaching in school because learning at CLV is different from learning in school. In school, the primary goal is to learn, and if you’re lucky, having fun might be a secondary goal. At CLV, learning and having fun are synonyms, not because we’re the kind of nerds who enjoy learning in the first place (although most of us are) but because we teach in engaging, fun ways. When I describe our teaching to people unfamiliar with our program, I say that we teach in such a way that the kids don’t notice that they are learning.
It taught me how to be supportive. We practice this thing called 'strife-guarding,' where if you see someone who looks like they might not be okay, you go to them. You talk, you do whatever you can to make it better. You might not be able to make it better, but at the very least you have shown that you care, that someone cares, that this person is worth caring about. It taught me how to do this without absorbing other people’s emotions as my own, without taking on more responsibility for the entire situation than is appropriate.
We build better people. Summer camp teaches kids to be independent, responsible, resourceful. We include programming that exposes kids to real-world events and issues; and engage them in finding solutions. Particularly in our camps, they are exposed to different cultures, come into contact with people from different backgrounds and become more open-minded people.
It is the hardest job I have ever loved. It is exhausting. It is draining, both physically and emotionally. Everybody cries at some point each summer, and anyone who denies it is lying. There are times when you tell yourself 'never again,' and there are also times when you tell yourself 'I’ll never stop coming back.'
Now, as a member of my village’s leadership team, my job is different. I’m not directly teaching anymore, I don’t live with kids anymore. Which I do miss, at times. This summer, I’m responsible for the two-week program: teaching the counselors how to teach in such a way that the kids don’t realize that they are learning; providing the kind of support and feedback that was so crucial to me in my early years on staff; and supporting the kind of personal growth in our villagers and in our staff that has benefited me both inside and outside of camp.
Paying it forward, in a way. It’s a worthwhile way to spend the summer. It has also taught me, and continues to teach me, a lot of French.
Amanda Joëlle Ruskin has been a counselor at Lac du Bois, the French Language Village, for six summers. She holds a master's degree in French studies from Minnesota State University, Mankato; a BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and also studied at the Institut de Langue et de Culture Française.