It’s been years since I’ve attended a summer camp, and I’ll thank you to not count how many exactly. We haven’t yet sent the wee ones away, though it’s been something I’ve been considering. Sleep away camp is a big deal, and you don’t want to get it wrong, which is another reason I’m so excited that my whole family is headed to Concordia Language Villages in just a few weeks to enjoy the Family Week Spanish immersion program.
Now that we’re getting closer, I’m thinking more and more about the packing and prepping. I’ve sent in my transportation and health forms, something that has to be done a minimum of three weeks before camp starts, even if you’re providing your own transportation (although since Concordia Language Villages has attendees from all over the country (and even outside the US), they provide optional transportation to the villages from the airport closest to your village and also from St. Paul at an additional cost.
The biggest question, of course, is what to pack. The cabins villagers stay in aren’t cramped, but there isn’t a lot of storage space partly because you don’t need that much while you’re at camp and you’re sharing your space with other villagers. Additionally, each villager must carry his own luggage to and from the cabin, so if your 10 year old can only carry twenty pounds, don’t pack more than twenty pounds! I’ve had cabins that have been relatively close to our customs check in – yes, you go through customs when you arrive! – and others that are further away. I never had an issue with not having enough stuff, so follow the recommendations.
And fortunately, there are recommendations. When you receive your confirmation packet that includes your transportation and health forms and passports, there is also a recommended packing list. The great thing about the packing list is that it offers a checklist of what you brought to the village, as well as what you’re bringing home so that you can avoid forgetting items at camp. To avoid losing items while at camp, label every item with your name (or your child’s name) because the camp is pretty awesome about returning lost items that are labeled while the camp is in session – not that I know this from person experience or anything.
For the most part, the packing list is fairly standard. Bring enough socks and underwear for every day. Bring twin size sheets and a sleeping bag, blankets, and a pillow. Our cabins were never air conditioned, and the weather really varied, so having layers at night was helpful (though we couldn’t sleep inside a zipped sleeping bag because of fire code, we used them as blankets). You want to bring your own towels and washcloth, bathing suit, shampoo, flashlight, etc. Because villagers do so much walking throughout the day from activity to activity, bringing a backpack to carry your items is also important. Concordia Language Villages is sensitive to the environment around it, as well, which means that any shampoos, conditioners, and soaps you pack should be biodegradable and/or have a low phosphate level and don’t contain ammonium lauryl sulfate to protect the waters surrounding most camps.
There are some unique packing requests, as well. For Concordia Language Villages, villagers are requested to bring a change of dress clothes. There has always been some sort of a formal night when I’ve attended, and it’s fun. And everyone truly does dress up. I remember one boy (Adam!) who brought a full on tux, and it was a blast. One girl forgot shoes to go with her dress, so make sure you have appropriate footwear (in addition to two pairs of gym shoes because one inevitably seems to get dirty and wet with all the fun we have).
And yes, that’s me in the second row, second from the right in my circa 1990 dress and bangs. The dress up nights were always a blast, and you get a heads up (and extra bathroom time) before them.
The good news is that all the items you need should be able to fit into a duffle bag or small suitcase, which is great for those who are flying, too. The sometimes more challenging part is getting villagers ready mentally and emotionally, especially if this is the first time they’ve gone to camp. Again, Concordia Language Villages is a winner in our book because the wee ones’ first experience at camp is going to be with my husband and I with them. Any questions they have, we’ll be there. They’ll get the full camp experience, but we will be with them to enjoy it and make the transition easier – and to see how they do in a camp setting. Next year, my goal is to send Little Miss on her own with a friend or two from her Spanish immersion program at school – to a two week session and then possibly have the rest of my family follow it up with a Family Week immediately afterwards.
For those who are going to camp the first time, one of the great things about Concordia Language Villages is the fact that it’s in a foreign language from the moment you arrive at customs. The counselors speak nothing but the language of your village, so everyone is on the same footing in terms of being a little off kilter and having to figure things out. At the same time, there are so many repeat villagers that there are always those who know what’s going on at least a bit and can help lead the rest of the villagers, whether it be in song or to the shower or lake or in a game. The counselors are a huge help, too, as they have figured out amazing ways to communicate via gestures and song that help even those without a word of the language to begin to understand.
There are no phone calls or email during the camp, but letters are welcome both coming to villagers and from them. When “La Meteo du Lac du Bois” arrived each day, it was always a huge celebration, and I loved receiving a note from my parents – often that my mom had written before I’d left camp to ensure I got something almost every day I was gone! Ensuring your child that you’ll be in contact helps to reduce the homesickness that can emerge.
Because the life is so different and there are constant activities from morning to night, there isn’t much time to miss home, and that’s something to emphasize to those who are nervous about attending. The variety of activities is staggering, and there are often an array of choices that villagers can make depending on their individual interests. I’ve mentioned before that I made some amazing friends while I was at Lac du Bois – the French village – over the years I attended. Only once did I ever attend with a friend, and that’s fairly common. Most of those attending come without knowing anyone or may know just one or two people. You are so quickly thrown into the fun of camp that everyone makes friends quickly, so reassuring your child who is attending alone is easy.
Our packing is nearly complete, which means that next up is the trek to Minnesota and our adventure through customs where we will have our passports checked, our bags examined (no contraband allowed!), and choose our Spanish names. I’m pretty sure that Mister Man will choose Horacio – if it’s available, as there are no double names allowed at camp – but the rest of us? Who knows!