September 3, 2009 at 7:20 a.m.

Japanese language, culture make summer camp session memorable

Japanese language, culture make summer camp session memorable
Japanese language, culture make summer camp session memorable

Courtney Fox, 16, of Lindstrom spent four weeks this summer as a world traveler, but didn't have to leave Minnesota.

Fox, who will be a junior at Chisago Lakes High School this year, took part in a Japanese language camp for the second summer in a row, immersing herself in the language and culture.

She originally found out about Concordia College's Language Villages from her grandparents. Fox was disappointed that she couldn't fit a foreign language class into her high school schedule, so her grandparents thought the language camp would be a good alternative.

Fox looked at the list of camps offered, and was immediately drawn to the Japanese camp, called Mori no Ike, (roughly translated, it means "lake of the woods") held in Hackensack, Minnesota.

Last year, Fox attended the camp's two week program. This year, she was at Mori no Ike for four weeks, ending with a camp celebration Aug. 22.

Fox was able to earn a full year of foreign language credit she can now use toward her graduation requirements at CLHS. Not all high schools accept the Language Village camps for high school credit, so campers need to work with their school to determine if they can receive credit.

From the time Fox arrived at camp, she was immersed in the Japanese culture and language. All of her classes and interactions with counselors were in Japanese.

"You eat Japanese meals, the counselors just speak Japanese, I loved how cultural it was," Fox said.

Of course, there were times that explanations needed to be made in English, such as relating some of the Japanese history to the campers, or in times of emergencies, Fox said.

"There was one time at night when the whole cabin would tell their high and low point of the day, usually in English," Fox said.

A typical day would be waking up to a breakfast that varied between American fare and Japanese, like salmon with rice.

Fox would then attend two language classes and have study time before lunch. After lunch, there was free time to rest or explore camp, then a time called Club, when the campers made traditional Japanese arts and crafts or watched movies.

Another language class followed, and after dinner, a nightly evening program and campfire. Sometimes, campers would perform skits or share what they learned that day during the evening program.

Other times, the evening program was elaborate, like when the counselors came in canoes to the camp's beach and fired water balloons at the campers. It was all a re-creation of the Mongols invading Japan.

"We'd play games too, but always traditional games," Fox said.

Fox shared an eight-bunk cabin with six other campers and one counselor. She said attendance was a little lighter this year than last summer, with about 80 campers at Mori no Ike, ranging from 15 to 18 years old.

Her two years at the camp were Fox's first exposure to the Japanese language. It was challenging at first to be immersed in the language, but Fox said she learned quickly.

"I was one of the few people there who had no experience with the language," she said. "But to survive, you had to learn quickly."

She said it isn't really difficult to learn the language, as long as you concentrate on learning the three alphabets they use.

Fox learned a lot of basic phrases, such as asking questions like, "what is your name?" and other essential words and phrases. Two of the counselors and one dean at the camp were from Japan, so Fox especially enjoyed being able to speak with them and ask questions about the history and language.

"You learn more in four weeks than you can in one year of classes," Fox said.

She also enjoyed forming friendships at the camp, and stays in touch with many of her cabin mates. It is a good way for her to keep using the language, Fox said, because most of her correspondences with other campers are in Japanese.

Fox's parents were pleased with her experiences at the camp, and were able to see and hear what Fox learned during the closing program at the end of camp. Campers performed dances, songs and created a slide show.

"They thought it was cool that I was there," Fox said. "They said the next best thing to going to Japan is the camp."

Fox is already planning on attending the four-week camp next year for a second year of foreign language credit, and looks forward to working as a camp counselor during college.


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