My family and I are on our third day at camp. Yep, all of us. We are enjoying a Family Week at El Lago del Bosque in Minnesota where we are being immersed in Spanish. The camp, run by Concordia Language Villages, is surprisingly similar in many ways to the experiences I had growing up and attending the French version, Lac du Bois (yep, all camp names translate to Lake of the Woods).
When we arrived, we went through a very similar check-in process. We showed our passports and had them stamped to verify our entry – and they’ll be stamped again when we (sadly) leave. Our next stop was to choose our Spanish names for the week. As always, the name choices were written for us – a list for boys and a list for girls. Little Miss was bummed that her name of choice had already been selected – I remember that feeling – but quickly found another one (Lupe). I let her select mine, as well, and am now known as Marisela. Mister Man chose Lucas because he’s a huge Star Wars fan and… George Lucas, while my husband went with this high school name of Paco. For those who wish to have names that aren’t on the list, that is allowed pending permission that it is an allowed name, which some in our group have done.
We also deposited money in the “bank” to use for purchases at the camp store (which is much bigger with more selection than it was when I attended camp). Our dollars were exchanged for pesos and carefully noted the amount and date with a counselor signature both in our passport and in another notecard that the camp retains. To withdraw money, we need to present our passports at the bank during the hours it is open to exchange for pesos. Once we have our pesos, then we can buy items at the store, anything from Toblerone ($3 for the larger size) and lollipops (generally $0.50) and packages of Gummi-Bears ($1.50) to hats ($12.50), books, t-shirts, and more. The store is open during our free time each day, so there is plenty of time to shop, if desired.
From there, we created our tablas – the nametags we wear during camp – painting them in any design we choose with our Spanish name. It is amazing to see the creativity that some have for their nametags (especially the counselors). I like mine just fine, but it is yet more proof that I’m not an artist. It gets the job done, however – though at this point, most people know who I am and my name so it is less necessary for that purpose and used more for ensuring that I am accounted for when we’re swimming at the lake.
And that’s another part about camp that I adore. It’s small enough that I feel like I know everyone by sight if not by name after just a couple days. People who were strangers not that long ago are now people who warmly welcome you when we walk up. In this space, we’re all out of our comfort zone, and this creates a bond much faster than it would elsewhere. There’s already talk of keeping in touch after we end our week – and who’s coming back next year.
Our daily routine is also fairly similar to what I remember, as well. We have three meals a day and two snack periods, so even if you aren’t a huge fan of a given meal, there is no way anyone is going hungry. The meals are diverse with plenty to choose from. They include bread, generally, along with a salad or vegetable or both, and a main course. That said, what is offered is the meal. There are no alternatives for those who only eat mac and cheese for every meal.
Mister Man isn’t the most adventurous eater, but he has been pleasantly surprised by many of the meals. Last night, we had Milanesa from Argentina as our main course. It is breaded and fried meat, topped with a slice of ham, tomato, and cheese. He didn’t want to touch it initially, but once we explained that he had no other choice, he reluctantly took a bite and demolished it. That’s been the experience in general. The food tastes great and isn’t super spicy or exotic tasting once you eat it, but the presentation ma be different from what people are used to.
Before each meal, there is a song to introduce it – as we have songs for many times that we have learned that help teach us new words and give us context as to what’s going on – and a skit put on by counselors to introduce what we’re eating. Their creativity is impressive, and it’s a great way to learn the names of the dishes, as well. We also still eat family style with extra food for seconds generally for those who are still hungry, and yes, we clean our tables once we finish eating. I love the independence this inspires in kids.
We also still have our soap opera – or telenovela at El Lago del Bosque. For this week, we are seeing an enactment of Maleficent. It’s all done in Spanish and lasts less than ten minutes with plenty of drama and grand gestures to help ensure that everyone understands what’s happening. At the conclusion of the telenovela, our narrator asks questions in Spanish to ensure we understood the action and explain a few points if necessary.
There are plenty of games and two recreation periods each day, so we’re always having fun. My husband and I have signed up for bachata lessons during our kids’ third language class (and class is used lightly – it’s the period where they learn, but it’s done in a fun way with games and more rather than in a traditional classroom setting), and our family has also made crazy animals with clay and painted them and we’re working on tie-dye t-shirts right now. All the instruction for the activities is in Spanish, which gives us the history of what we’re doing and why as well as introducing plenty of new words while reviewing ones we already know.
The counselors are, as always, outstanding. They are almost all native speakers from places like Argentina and Mexico, as well as Mallorca in Spain and more. They speak Spanish to us almost entirely, although they are willing to take pity on us when we have completely lost our way. They are enthusiastic and never crabby. They seem to be everywhere and are always willing to lend a hand. Many of them have been counselors at the camp for years, while others are new this year, which creates a great balance. Many of them have told me that they feel like family now after spending the summer working together.
For all the similarities (and no I didn’t cover them all here), there are also plenty of differences. The differences aren’t bad and some of them may be specific to this location, this language, this session, and because it’s a Family Week rather than a general session. Those you’ll have to check out tomorrow.