When a parent who doesn’t speak German takes the kids to camp at Waldsee family week

I’m sure there are no dummies at Waldsee*, but I can guarantee you I felt like one upon arrival at German family week. Showing up at language immersion camp for the first time is no joke!

„Ich habe vor 20 Jahren deutsch gelernt“

More than twenty years ago, I took one academic year of German in college. I was hardly showing up without a clue, but neither am I a fluent speaker of Deutsch. Even straight out of an A grade in German 102, I wouldn’t have been ready for this. For a few minutes, it feels like running into an intellectual brick wall.

Then again, Waldsee is a celebration of one’s potential to learn a language as much as it is a shrine to language at its most pristine. These camps exist because students want to learn, and people want to communicate with each other.

„Wir sprechen jetzt Deutsch und… we’re going to like it!

The most challenging part of a six day immersion program in a language I’d merely dabbled with decades before was day one, hours one to three. Walking up to the registration table to present our camp “passports“ and check in brought me up short. I’m a smart cookie, but I felt like an idiot. What was anyone talking about? Exactly how far was I going to be carrying my enormous bag full of bedding and bug spray? Why was I here with these fiendish Teutophiles and how could I be expected to parent under these conditions?

By the time we made it to our bunkhouse, we’d carried our overstuffed suitcase up the wrong steps, finally found the right door, then the right floor, but I’d angry-whisper-yelled at my poor child more than once long before the bags were dumped on the bed. If you’d asked my opinion in that first hour, I’d have told a very different story about Waldsee in particular and language immersion in general than the one I’ll give you now. There might have been colorful language, in English, but I kept it under my breath so as not to spoil the immersion environment for others.

A lot of people wonder how much they could possibly learn in one week (six days, really) at Concordia Language Village’s family week, especially if the child is learning a language the parent never studied. Parents who hear about our trip to Waldsee are usually fascinated, but clearly hesitant to imagine themselves “back in school” learning a foreign language of all things.

Here’s my take for the parent who’s eager for their child to learn (or the parent of the eager child desperate to attend camp, but reluctant to go without parental support.)

Even if you don’t know one word of the target language, the staff will get you through the week and your kids will learn a lot. You will also have fun! If you are happy to be there, the experience will be joyful, regardless of German learned.

How much you actually learn is probably dependent upon your facility for languages (do you learn them easily?), the amount of effort you care to put in, and maybe the amount of parenting your own situation requires. If you bring a toddler or all six of your kids, you might nap more and study less! Either way, you can have a good time with your family and rest assured you are contributing to your child’s education. They will learn more—and more easily—than you do. You don’t have to know anything about your target language to make CLV family week worthwhile.

If you know you are heading to Waldsee, though, you will probably enjoy it a lot more if you take a stab at some self-study materials before camp. There are free language learning apps like Duolingo, free language learning software programs like Mango available from most public libraries, and lots of great recorded options like Pimsleur and Living Language to listen to in your car. (Both of these audio CD systems were also free from my local library.) Most of us won’t achieve fluency with these study aids, but even a brief grounding in the target language should reduce the shock and awe stage of immersion camp.

My experience, with modest background in German, a reasonably good ear for languages, and some preparation in the weeks before camp can best be expressed thusly:

We left camp, rode the bus to Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport, and embarrassed ourselves for the next several hours by continually addressing befuddled airport workers in German.

The effect lasted about a week in our home. Both of us were defaulting to beginning sentences in German, in spite of our relatively low level of speaking ability. From my perspective, that’s a learning success, for my child, and for the lifelong learner in me.

*Concordia Language Village (CLV) foreign language immersion summer camp for German in Bemidji, MN

Waldsee family week for parents: what to expect, with pictures!

This post will avoid almost everything that makes Waldsee really special (i.e., the German immersion experience) and instead focus on little details about the practicalities of daily life for a family in a summer camp environment. Knowing this stuff up front would have helped me plan and pack for my first Concordia Language Villages stay. I wrote more about my top concerns before first attending family week at Waldsee here.

Please excuse me for pictures recorded on an old iPad by an unskilled photographer. Hopefully a little bit of pictorial advice, however amateurish, will go a long way toward showing a newcomer what to expect.

Concordia Language Villages transportation

It’s about 215 miles, or 3 ½ hours of driving time, from Bemidji, MN to MSP (Minneapolis St.Paul International Airport.) Will you—or your child camper—be making this trek on an old yellow school bus?

Not in my experience! We rode in a comfortable, air conditioned charter bus from BJI (Bemidji Regional Airport) to camp, and again from camp to MSP. There was a staff member aboard responsible for paperwork and supervising the kids traveling alone, distinct from the professional driver. The bus even had seatbelts.

Where will we sleep?

As an adult with a health issues that sometimes affects my mobility, I was a little nervous about the sleeping arrangements. I went to summer camp, and some of the beds were  iffy even for a kid. I knew I wouldn’t have to climb into an upper bunk because I could insist my son do that if we were sharing one bunk bed, but everything else was a potentially miserable question mark.

CSV Waldsee bunkbed nook

Two sets of bunk beds in each of two walled nooks in Schwarzwaldhaus

The beds were fine. The mattresses were about six inches thick and covered in utilitarian but hygienic vinyl, and they were supported by solid wooden bunks that didn’t squeak, sway, or sag. I wouldn’t have said no to an egg crate topper, but the firm, simple bed didn’t cause me any pain. The provision of a reading lamp above every bunk was an unexpected luxury we sure didn’t enjoy at my childhood camps.

Privacy was provided, in our case, with a set of bed-sheet curtains hung to partition a set of four bunk beds in a walled nook. This space was entirely ours as a family of two, mother and son. There was another mom with two kids (one boy, one girl) staying upstairs in the same room. I felt I had total visual privacy for changing, and sufficient privacy overall for sleeping, but I do wear earplugs when I travel. We went to bed earlier than the family upstairs, and I hardly even knew they were there.

CSV Waldsee Schwarzwaldhaus sleeping room

Schwarzwaldhaus two story bunk room, shared by two small families

These arrangements will vary a lot based upon how many members are in your family and their genders. I didn’t go inside anyone else’s sleeping room, but I saw peeks of very different set-ups through open doors around camp. Definitely, some families had private rooms with doors, so inquire with CLV about your own situation if you have questions.

Will we have to bathe in the lake?

There is hot running water at Waldsee, and the facilities were adequate for parental hygiene. There were even electrical outlets near the sinks for those dependent upon electric hair-styling appliances or toothbrushes.

The showers are about as primitive as modern plumbing in America gets, but they are separate curtained enclosures. I recommend bringing shower shoes, though the facilities were quite clean for a summer camp.

CSV Waldsee bathroom4CSV Waldsee bathroom3

Where can I get my morning coffee?

This was a particularly terrifying unknown for me. Summer camp villagers don’t have access to the staff coffee corner in the dining hall, but family week parents do. I believe coffee was available at every meal, not just breakfast, but I’m a once a day drinker, so follow up with CLV if you need reassurance. Tea things were here, too, but they ran out of English Breakfast during our week, so bring your own if you’re tea dependent like me.

CSV Waldsee dining hall coffee1

In the dining hall, close enough to sneak back for another cup during announcements, if necessary

Another great perk unique to family week was an early riser’s cafe with fresh baked pastries available before breakfast. I do wake up early, and I prefer to have a cup of tea right away, though I’m comfortable waiting for breakfast proper. Rising at five o’clock then waiting several hours before caffeination to share Frühstück with hoards of Villagers bellowing cheerful songs would be painful. Thankfully, there was no need. Parents of young children who get up with the birds should also hear this with glad hearts. There were even German cartoons playing on a laptop at the cafe to distract the little ones.

CSV Waldsee morning cafe

Cafe seating is outdoors so bring a sweater. That’s the coffee machine by the wall and those red things on the counter are mugs, ready and waiting. No photos of the pastries because we were too busy eating them!

Is there anything else you really want to know before you register for—or attend—Waldsee for the first time? Let me know in the comments and I’ll try to help!