For my school holidays, I took the opportunity to partake in an English Immersion camp. I had no idea what to expect, and I basically applied on a whim, because I hadn’t decided what to do for my holidays yet. So, one week out, I applied and was accepted.
I spent the weekend before in Bogota with friends, had an amazing weekend, then felt super weird and unsure as I made my way down the winding road (yes, one guy on my bus vommed) to Santandercito, a tiny tiny pueblito where the camp was to be held.
I had maybe two hours to settle in, and get to know the rest of the leadership team before the students started arriving. Baptism by fire amiright?
The activity for the first night was a campfire, with songs, skits, speeches, and s’mores. This was the height of my being freeeeaked. The team knew all these hilarious songs and dances, and were teaching the kids to sing and dance along. Of course they totally lapped it up. Me on the other hand, being the embarrassable kiwi that I am, wanted to curl into a little ball and roll further down the hill back to Girardot. I wondered how I would cope with 2 weeks of this.
Well, I did much more than cope. I once again learnt how extremely adaptable us humans can be. Give it a couple of days, and there I was, singing, dancing, aprovechando, and losing my kiwi inhibitions.
The camp was, in my opinion, a huge success, and an excellent example of the value of language learning through immersion. It’s like: you could learn food vocabulary slowly in the classroom. Or you could learn food vocabulary by actually eating the food for lunch. Therein lies the beauty of immersion.
Most days followed a very specific routine. We would start off with breakfast (yasss), then have an academic English session, which used a variety of techniques making the activities fun and super interactive. The students didn’t even realise they were learning. After a snack (yasss), students went off to their selected activities (all led in English of course), for example dance, craft, sport, aquatics, etc. You name it. Each leader led an activity based on their skill sets. After lunch, students went to another activity, followed by an academic session in the afternoon.
Night time was a time for games, and also “cabin time”. Each leader had assigned to them a “family”, who they were responsible for, and who they shared a cabin with. Cabin time was a reflective time with the “family”.
My 9 “daughters”, were a super sweet bunch. Certainly I came across some counsellor challenges- teenaged girls’ emotions and home sickness, trying to wake up teenage girls at 6:30 every day, as well as humouring their extreme make up routines. Truth is, I care for those girls a lot, and they taught me more than I could have imagined.
All in all, honestly, I hate being cheesy, but this camp was a truly inspiring experience. At the end of the camp, I don’t think there was a single person who didn’t cry. In many cases, these kids’ tears absolutely broke my heart. I know that many of these students have extremely difficult home lives. One girl from my family was hugging me, on our last evening, and she told me that she has never felt so at home in her life. My heart broke into a million pieces for her in that moment, and I swear I felt literal pain.
Some students cried an expected amount of tears. Some cried so hard, and hugged us leaders with such desperation, that it was clear that their sadness came from a much darker place than the simple fact that they were sad to leave camp. It was the fact that camp had been their refuge, and now they had to go back to their difficult home situations.
It is for this reason that I have been so touched by this camp. Of course, the main purpose of the camp was to learn English, and English was certainly learnt. But this camp did so much more than that. It gave refuge, hope, and dreams to the students.
The love and dedication shown by the amazing leadership team, who are now my family (miss you angels every day!), are insanely inspiring. Each leader brought something special and unique to the team, and taught me so many things. I am so grateful for our amazing camp coordinator, the best pep-talker I have ever met, for bringing us together, for bringing the best out of the team, for everything she taught us, and for the amazing energy she brought with her every single day.
I wouldn’t change this experience for anything.