Blog Post 20. (9/30/2021) - Part Teacher, Part Coach, Part Pirate - all parts Waldseebetreur, some of my experiences as a 2021 counselor at Waldsee, Concordia Language Villages
My friend Jacob and I are trudging along the silver-grey outline of a starlit road as I think back on my time at Waldsee. As I look up, I am reminded of those quiet nights after all the campers went to bed, because the crowding pines frame the stars in just such a way. But although the night sky is much the same a thousand miles away at the same latitude, the stars are not as clear here as they were at Concordia Language Villages.
Before I write any other blogs, I would first like to cover my summer with the German Concordia Language Village, whose proper name is ‘Waldsee’. In typical Waldsee fashion, the title of this blog post is both a portmanteau and a play on the already existing German word: “Waldeinsamkeit”, translated literally “the wonder one experiences while alone in the woods”. This wondrous feeling is something everyone feels now and again in Waldsee, but “zusammensein” or togetherness, better describes the Waldsee experience. The camp itself is isolated in the woods, but within that wondrous isolation it’s all about the immersive experience of learning in another culture. It’s more than a typical summer camp- it’s a whole village complete with a bank, theater, “train station” (they built the train station and never added the trains), a guest hall and many other such buildings of traditional German make. Everything is done in the German language and every aspect of daily camp life is infused with German-speaking culture and a bit of that indescribable Waldseeian spirit. Since it can better describe the campus than any words I would write, here’s a map of the campus that hangs in the guest hall.
This summer, I worked with 200 and some children, a small sum compared to Waldsee’s usual numbers but a solid figure by pandemic standards. Coronavirus notwithstanding, we were able to host five different programs this summer- which meant I had the pleasure of teaching children ages 7-18, adults and families at various points. But by far I enjoyed our mainstay, 4 week programs the most because I had the opportunity to counsel a house of 10-13 year old boys long enough to get to know the boys as individuals and to see their German really improve.
The first few weeks were always difficult, but we worked our way through home-sickness and anxiety and loneliness and ended up having a great time. The four week programs felt so rewarding because campers had enough time to find their niche in Waldsee, making friends, connecting with counselors and discovering the adventure programs and activities that they enjoy the best. Having built that rapport, it made my job much more enjoyable. As both counselors and language session teachers, our jobs revolved around making language learning as engaging as it is useful through experiential learning. Unlike your stereotypical classroom, we would teach our lessons outside in nature using the resources around us in a culturally appropriate way.
Since this blog is getting a little on the longer side and I am no closer to capturing the enormous breadth of Waldsee life, here’s a typical schedule for a four week program as best I can remember it one month on:
Go around the camp waking up the various houses, singing a different German song for each
Morgenkreis + Fruhstuck
Morning circle, breakfast, I put on a skit for the Sprachmeisterprogramm.
I dress up as a fox, pirate or something even crazier to play out a skit where we introduce the question of the day.
I work in our bank where the villagers take out small euro sums.
1st class, I will be teaching an adventure program class or a language session
11:00 am-12;00 pm
1st activity hour, I might be bicycling with villagers through the woods, refereeing a soccer game or teaching about medieval German poetry
Mittagessen + Mittagsruhe
Lunch and midday rest
2nd class, I teach another language session or adventure program
Normally a break for me
Back in the bank working as a teller
3rd and final class, language session or adventure program
We offer a series of relaxing activities before dinner like cloudwatching, reading or board games
Abendessen + Abendruhe
Dinner and evening break, time to get ready for the evening program!
Evening Program, where the magic happens. Sometimes I was acting an old professor at an art institute, other times I was a dragon on a bicycle kidnapping princesses and scaring children, one time I even got to be the king of the Britons! So many good moments it could be its own blog post.
Everyone heads back to their houses and goes to bed.
As far as teaching goes, I had the pleasure of teaching Swiss and “Fairy-tale-forest” adventure programs (man, that sounds much better in German), where we spent the latter two weeks of our four week programs exploring specific aspects of German-speaking cultures and life. It was interesting to direct a cast of 8 and 9 year old girls dressed up in armor as they acted out a play of their choosing- we ended up putting a twist on Rapunzel, and they decided to replace the witch with morally ambiguous dragons and make the prince-figure and co evil. Likewise, I enjoyed teaching bits of the Swiss dialect as well as Swiss direct democracy and cheesmaking for the Helvetia adventure group. At the worst of times, it was like herding cats. But at the best of times, I couldn’t help but think to myself- what other job in the world is as fun as this?
The topics themselves were interesting, but the hands-on, culturally appropriate means in an archtypally German environment (the northern woods) really sell the Waldsee experience. On the off chance there are german speakers of any stripe with free summers and reading this- I cannot recommend working at Waldsee highly enough. The quality of life is excellent. The camp grounds and surrounding woods are beautiful and sometimes serene. The bond you build with your fellow Betreurs (counselors) is excellent. Seeing kids progress their German while having the time of their life and growing as individuals is excellent. I’m very proud to have been part of the process this summer, after two years of relative isolation the kids needed the social experience Waldsee provides.
P.S. The full summer program is not for the faint of heart, it is a very rewarding experience but draining near the end. Try teaching the first or second half of the summer, most Betreurs do one or the other but I did both.