My top three concerns before our first trip to Waldsee, and some advice for new family Villagers
Two years ago, I registered DS1 and myself for family week at Waldsee, the German language immersion camp at Concordia Language Villages in Bemidji, MN. For those who’ve never heard of it, CLV is a language-learning program put on by Concordia College. It is a highly regarded program, and there are few foreign language immersion options like it in the United States. They offer summer camps for kids in fifteen different languages and have done so in some form or another since 1961. Family week is one of the year-round additions to the program that allows adults to participate with their kids in this effective way of studying a foreign language.
Though I scoured the Internet in the spring of 2015, there was hardly any information available about the family sessions aside from official CLV content. I found enough camper reviews from kids and teens to take make an educated guess that this would be a good fit for us, but I registered with some trepidation.
I was very excited about the camp—and I can now recommend it highly!—but I’m not the sort to blindly trust the word of someone who’s trying to sell me something. I wanted to hear from parents who had actually made the trip to Waldsee with their offspring; I wanted to know what to expect, preferably from a mom like me. I took the plunge two years ago because DS1 is educated at home and it is hard to find great local options for studying German below the high school level. Waldsee is a great supplement to any German learning program, but perhaps uniquely valuable to autodidacts and others who learn without speaking partners.
We are returning to family week in 2017, this time adding DS2 to our party. Our time at Waldsee was so much fun, it seems unfair not to include the other kid, even though he’s never studied German before. I’m positive he will have a great time, and I really want to share the experience with him. Ideally, DH would join us, too. It seems wrong that he has to miss out on all the fun, but his vacation time is just too precious and Minnesota is too far afield.
Having dispensed with the exposition, here are a few reassurances that I wish I’d heard before my first trip to Waldsee.
1) During family week, adults have plenty of fun options provided by the camp, but families are also free to spend their time as they choose.
In many ways, I’m a happy camper. I love cheesy camp songs. Though I’m an introvert, I love to be nestled up alongside, if slightly apart from, the cheerful camaraderie of others. My experience at Waldsee was just about perfect in this respect.
I was always aware of a fun activity I could join. I think something was on offer every waking minute of the day! The overall feeling at Waldsee is exhilarating and joyful.
I never felt like I was being forced or bullied into participating when I didn’t want to. Every activity was an opt-in.
In this vein, I also felt supported as a parent to allow my child to join in—or not. DS1 found a group of compatriots on the very first day, choosing most often to hang out with them for the rest of the week. This was a real shocker! DS1 is not a joiner, and I’d expected to be constantly nudging him into participation. Whether this was the magic of Waldsee or simple good luck, we’ll see when we return this year.
If my child had shown signs of over-socialization stress (introverts know what I mean), I would’ve pulled him out and taken him back to the cabin for some alone time. It was pretty obvious that the program allowed for it.
This is also a good place to mention that our party of two inveterate introverts felt we had sufficient privacy to unwind and recharge, even though we were sharing a room with one other family and a house with many others. Specifics of one’s personal space will vary depending upon who attends camp any given session, but we had curtains for physical privacy and enough space not to feel physically or aurally crowded.
2) Though the official policy is cautious, a family with some physical special needs can expect to enjoy Waldsee
We have some dietary needs that aren’t mainstream (but nothing life-threatening.) I was also diagnosed with a serious autoimmune condition in 2015. I was mildly concerned about having good food options, and I was pretty nervous about my own comfort and physical health at camp.
For food, my concerns were mostly unfounded. There was one meal where the kitchen assumed a lower lactose option (based on hard cheese) would be safe for my severely lactose-intolerant son, but they were able to give him the vegan option when I expressed concern that it wasn’t. He could’ve survived on bread and vegetables for one meal if it had been a bigger problem.
Family week makes this a bit easier than standard sleep-away camp weeks at CLV because we retained the option to keep well-wrapped/sealed personal food with us in our cabin. I had safe, supplementary food that we never needed, but it gave me peace of mind to know my son would never go hungry. Food from home would be considered contraband during sleep-away camp weeks, and it would be confiscated upon arrival.
As far as my concerns about staying comfortable as an adult with health problems staying at a kids’ summer camp, everything worked out pretty well. I never felt pressured to join an activity that would cause me physical problems. The bunk beds, while far from luxurious, were comfortable enough that I could sleep using standard bedding. Sharing a bunk with a family member made this easier since I could insist DS1 sleep on the top. There are days where climbing a ladder is simply out of the question for me.
If your family requires medication, consider bringing a suitable locking container for it. During family week, you keep and dispense your own family’s medications. Because there are no locks on the doors, I kept all of my pills locked up in a medication bag and secured in my suitcase all of the time. I never felt that my belongings were in any way compromised, but I didn’t want to risk a child getting into my medication and being poisoned.
We are making some different choices for our second stay at Waldsee, primarily due to my physical needs. The biggest change is driving to Minnesota instead of flying. My one major discomfort during the 2015 family week could have been alleviated with camping equipment I already own. The thing I missed most was a cushioned chair with a back. At camp, you sit on hard wooden benches most of the time. Young backs and bones manage this very well, but my arthritis made it painful. I was only really comfortable at Waldsee lying down in my bunk. This time, I’m going to pack a folding camping chair to use in my cabin and possibly also at longer activity sessions.
I had a lot of concerns about what would happen if my condition flared at camp. Upon arrival, many of these fears were allayed. Our T-Mobile and Verizon wireless phones both worked in the parking lot, so we weren’t cut off from communication with family or physicians. The drive from Bemidji wasn’t too long, and the road was in good condition. It seemed likely that expert help could arrive quickly if needed. The camp buildings were mostly pretty refined structures. These weren’t the very primitive cabins of my childhood Camp Fire experience. Mosquitoes were mostly outside, the furniture was of sturdy household quality, and I could flip on an electric lamp if I needed to find my way at night.
3) The best way to arrive and depart Bemidji, MN
In 2015, we flew into Bemidji (BJI), flew out of Minneapolis (MSP), and we used CLV transportation options (charter bus) to get between Waldsee and the airports. The transportation staff was professional and everything went as planned, but one lesson learned is that you lose too much time from the last day of a short week by flying out of MSP. You leave camp before breakfast to make the multi-hours drive to Minneapolis. If you are paying to attend this moderately expensive camp, make the most of it and enjoy every hour you’ve paid for!
Flying into Bemidji was easy, and I suspect that flying out would have been equally satisfactory. We arrived Sunday and stayed overnight at a hotel to acclimate to the time zone before camp, and also to give me a comfortable night’s rest before what I feared would be a week of roughing it. The hotel night was pleasant, but I would only suggest it if it saves you a fortune on airfare to or from BJI. Some of the local hotels have free laundry facilities that might make an overnight before heading home very productive.
The biggest issue with flying to and from camp is the quantity of stuff you can carry by plane. We rented a set of bedding from CLV so we could check only one suitcase for the trip. The bedding was adequate, but bringing my own from home will make me more comfortable this year. If you fly, I’d suggest paying the airline fees to check a second bag full of bedding over renting linens.
A great deal more can be said about who might enjoy the Concordia Language Villages experience and how much one can learn in a week, and I intend to expand upon this in future posts. For now, I’m beginning with the few points that gave me the most angst as I planned my first visit to Waldsee, and offering the advice I think a newcomer should hear first.
Have you ever attended—or considered attending—family week at CLV? Feel free to share your best advice, or ask your most burning questions, in the comments!
Here’s a link to another mom’s blog series about attending family week at the CLV Russian site, Lesnoe Ozero. I was looking for exactly this information back in 2015.
Here’s my next installment in what I’ll call Waldsee family week for dummies, this time with more pictures.