The Camp Diaries: Week 1

Catnip here- yes we get camp names, and yes, long story short, my name is Catnip.

Whew. What a week it’s been (or actually more like a week in a half- time is completely warped here). I am bruised, muddy, sore, smelly, sleep deprived, on the verge of sickness, and so very happy. Yes, happy. Camp life is intense but so very rewarding.

Where do I begin? I tried to take notes as every day was adventure packed, and filled with events, characters, and experiences perfect for humourous short stories. And every day felt like five days rolled into one. But seeing as how today is my one day off, and my first day of nothing but blue skies in Normandy, I will try to keep this short and sweet:

Days 1-3: The Beginning/Set Up

Well I got placed in Normandy. The furthest site from Grenoble and one of the colder and more rainy areas of France. My room is a camp room- sparse, cold, (freezing at night), with nothing but beds and broken dressers (but I have it all to myself for the week!). The showers come in 20 second bursts, but at least the pressure is decent and the water is warm.

But all in all, I can’t complain. I’m placed at an old Chateau in FRANCE- the stuff of fairytales…or murder mysteries. There are so many birds singing and chatting in the morning, and fat rabbits running around at night. And a cherry blossom tree is starting to bloom right outside of my room. I think I can stay here a while.

 

What do you get when you put 2 Americans, 1 Canadian, 1 Irishman, and a Brit together? Don’t know, but we’re gonna find out! The counselors are finally all together and setting up the site. It’s a lot of work for 5 people (I set up an entire computer lab!), but I think we’re ready for the kids.

1st day with Kids: Immigration

This was only a half day, but man was it busy. I worked on passport duty (checking them in and helping them select wacky names), and then assisted with customs. It was pretty intense to search for and confiscate teenager’s phones and snacks. Most of them were good sports. It doesn’t hurt that their level is very advanced!

We divided into families and had one of the most polite dinners I’d experienced in some time. Not only did they say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, but ‘may I please have’ or ‘may I serve you’. Some even got into it and started serving food like fancy waiters. I like these kids already.

We finished the night with songs and smores by the camp fire. The crazy music teacher lived in his own world strumming the guitar and writing a song. Finally he included the kids in what resulted in an amazing camp theme song:

Welcome to zee Amer-ee-can camp
Near ze fie-eur wer needent a lamp
Welcome to zee Amer-ee-can camp
It’s not zee countree of Hugh Grant!

Gold.

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2nd day with Kids: Discover America Day/1st English Class

Things I’ve learned:

-I’d be a damn good English/ESL teacher…with a tiny bit of cruelty thrown in. We started the day with an April fools joke, telling the kids that “This is English class. You will respect us, you will be evaluated, and tested and if we don’t like your work no recess.” We told them there was a test waiting inside and that if they could read the paper in my hand, they would be allowed to have recess (the paper read April and then Fools). Their poor worried faces made it difficult to keep the joke up, but the laughter and relief that followed (as well as proper understanding of an April Fools prank) was worth it.

-Setting up my own classroom, designing my own curriculum, as well as creating my own class rules is hard work, but something I really do enjoy. It’s like preparing the foundation for a tiny community of learning. I’m a nerd. I know.

-The little ones are feisty. If you give them amo, they will fire with force. Two counselors had to learn this the hard way with the game- Get to Know Your Counselor, where kids had to interview us and remember the answers. If the answers were correct, the counselors got punished- water, flour, or shaving cream in the face, 10  seconds of smelling a shoe (camper’s choice), or 30 seconds of face paint. Fun stuff!

-Dressing in drag, creating weird noises and generally making an ass of yourself on the daily are camp essentials.

-And finally, I will never misspell counselor again.

3rd day with Kids: American Athletics Day
I have bruises on my shins, markers and dirt all over my hands, paint remnants on my face, and the stench of a weeks worth of sweat (even though I shower daily). This is my camp life. Am I counselor or camper?

Teaching baseball to people who know nothing of the sport is more complicated than one might think. But teaching (University of Texas) chants and cheers to quick-witted teenagers is quite fun.

So is running after kids in the dark and pretending like you don’t see them as they shush one another and tip toe ever so carefully to their next location. Mission Impossible is the name of the game, and Mission Impossible was quite the success- hunting and decoding clues, trying to avoid flashlight wielding sniper counselors- what’s not to love?

Tonight I am falling asleep with the sounds of little French accents in my head.

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4th day with Kids: Wild West Day

Sometimes it feels like a detriment to know French- at least when according to the camp rules/the kids you’re not supposed to know any French. I’m having such a hard time lying to the kids about my knowledge- or even worse- lying that I don’t understand when I know how mean they’re being to one another. Teenagers can be brutal.

I fail at chubby bunny. It was my first time trying it, nonetheless in a Western style duel! Shoving 7 marshmallows into your mouth, speaking, and trying not to vom in front of a room full of teenagers as the disintegrating marshmallows slowly slide down your throat is quite challenging, to say the least. Never again.

On the other hand, reinforcing Texan stereotypes, and messing with coworkers as a mischievous cow are always enjoyable.

The music teacher has gone from that funny guy with awkward boundary issues, to that awkward guy, to now verging on that creepy guys with boundary issues. Our laughter has turned to cringing. And concern…

The dance was SO much work, but SO much fun! Everyone got their groove on, laughed, and some shy slow dancing even took place. It was adorable, as well as a nice reminder of how happy I am to be far from the world of middle school.

Final day with kids: Graduation

We made graduation caps, signed ‘yearbooks’ and handed diplomas with personalized ‘most likely to’s…’ It’s been interesting to evaluate my culture from a very simplified perspective and to present it to little Frenchies who will walk away thinking ‘this is America’. One kid at least expanded his perspective from the idea of America being long streets with rows upon rows of fast food resturants. One point for us.

And at least I overheard two students saying:

“We’re so lucky to ave good counselors. Zey’re so cool.”
“Yes, but that’s because zey’re American”
“Do you sink all Americans are like zat??”

I don’t think we’re all like that, but I’ll take the compliment.

It’s been a long week with no downtime, so part of me is ready for the kids to leave. But the other part is sad to see them go. We’ve bonded, we’ve laughed and we’ve grown. We were lucky to get such a good group. Not just with their level, but with their eagerness to learn and their willingness to laugh at our ridiculous jokes, games, and skits- even if they were pity laughs.

When the bus pulled away and their little hands pressed up against the glass, waving goodbye until we could see them no more, my heart strings pulled and my eyes watered just a bit.

That is until 6:00 came and we opened a bottle of wine.

Week one, down.

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