Every year the summer begins slowly as the temperatures, at least in Pittsburgh, struggle to reach warm-weather highs. Yet by the end of August, as school resumes, I find myself asking what happened to summer and how is fall already here.
This past summer I spent July and August the same way I have for 8 years =-enjoying the Northwoods of Minnesota at Waldsee, the German Village at Concordia Language Villages (CLV). I talk about “German Camp” constantly, but I realize not all are aware of my camp activities. So a brief summary: I’ve worked at Waldsee for 4 summers (eeep!). It’s a summer camp but everything is in German. The campers have (in)formal German classes 3x a day, activity periods where they can swim, kayak, play Gaga ball, soccer, board-games, etc. There are breaks where you can buy German food and sweets such as kinder bars, Afri-kola, Milka, and Rittersport. Everything we do is a way to facilitate language learning and acquisition. The CLV jargon calls it a “Grand Simulation.” This means that we teach and use language like language is used in its native country. Heavy emphasis is placed on learning vocabulary needed to function on a daily basis, including: Going to the bank, buying things, eating, and sleeping.
I have two main responsibilities at camp. I plan simulations and exchanges-a bit more on that later. In addition, I work in the 2-week program and teach German to a group of 4-6 campers 3x a day. My preference is for the intermediate and/or advanced campers as I help lead the “Grammar Program,” which often functions as a bridge between 2-week and 4-week offerings. We focus overall on German grammar including strong and weak verbs, gender, case, and proper noun & article declension. We also learn slang. All of this is mostly taught through activities that emphasis speaking, reading, writing, and listening. We might watch “Fack ju Göhte,” a popular German movie, and then compare slang to standard German. We’ll illustrate idioms based on their literal translation before learning their figurative meaning. We make memes (yes, memes) to learn the conditional and the differences between wenn/wann/als. We climb the Käfer (VW-Bug) to learn about case, prepositions, and motion verbs. That’s one of my favorite activities, and I’ll ask questions like “Are you jumping on the roof of the car, or are you jumping onto the roof of the car?” The difference between the questions is dative and accusative case, respectively. Another question: “Are you climbing the bug?” which I’ll ask using accusative case–den Käfer–and dativ case–dem Käfer. The villagers then decide which one is the direct object in the sentence (the answer is den Käfer or das Auto). We’ll play a game where we translate everything into German using masking tape (think English on t-shirts, water bottles, etc.) or where we make a list of der/die/das words in only 60-90 seconds. We also write stories and sentences on the Marktplatz, on butcher-block paper, in sand; the possibilities are endless. When we need a laugh we often read Mark Twain’s “The Aweful German Language.” Afterwards we’re always grateful for the spelling reforms and grammar simplifications that have made Germany easier for us, than Twain.
Back to simulations and exchanges. In addition to teaching language, we do a lot with history, culture, and politics. Part of my job includes working with other language villages to teach across cultures. For example, we talk about shared Russian and German history each summer in a day-long exchange with the Russian camp. We might learn about the process to divide Germany into sectors after World War II, the marriage between Catherine the Great (fun fact: she was German!) and Peter the Great, or Germany facilitating Lenin’s journey back to Russia in 1917, which then eventually led to the Bolshevik revolution.
I also help plan simulations that focus on German history. We’ve done a 30-years war simulation, Nachkriegsspiel (after the 2 world-war), Bundestagwahl (German elections) and Wiedervereinigung (reunification) recently. This past year, we did a simulation where we learned about the Fall of the Berlin Wall, and how it affected families throughout Germany. Groups got to go around as “families” and experience important events in Germany history from the past 25-years. They got to learn how the reunification of Germany wasn’t positive for every German, and how it affected some Germans more than others.
I’m going to stop myself there, as I could write about my work at Waldsee for quite some time. I hope that gives some insight on what I do at camp and why I enjoy working there so much. I can’t wait to next summer, but I’m looking forward to the year to come. I’ll soon be heading to Jordan for my fall semester abroad. A pre-departure update and arrival update will go up as the next week unfolds.