Saturday, June 27, 2015

Concordia Language Villages, part 3: The Setting

This is my third post on our family's recent experience at Concordia Language Villages' Lesnoe Ozero Russian family camp. My first post explained what CLV is and what makes it unique. In my second post, I shared how to prepare and pack for a week (or more) at camp. 

In this post, I'll give you a tour of the setting and what to expect when you arrive, including the city of Bemidji (or Brrr-midji, as we called it when I lived in Minnesota as a kid), the road to camp, common areas at camp, and our cabin. I hope you will find this helpful as you consider attending a CLV camp. I know I was curious what to expect when we were planning our week! Once again, I offer my standard disclaimer that CLV offers fourteen different languages at multiple settings in various formats. This was our experience, your may be slightly different. 

We opted to drive to Minnesota from our home in Ohio. We generally travel by car within the US and Canada because we like the freedom to stop and see friends and family along the way. We spent the night before camp in Hibbing with my aunt and uncle. From there, it was just a short couple hours to Bemidji.

We had a little time before check in at 2:30, so said our obligatory hello to Paul Bunyan and Babe before enjoying an excellent lunch at The Cabin Coffee House & Cafe.

After lunch, we drove the fifteen minutes or so out of town to camp. I was so excited when we saw this sign! 

I read that roads to the villages were purposely designed to give the idea of a long trek made to a far-off land. We certainly got that feeling after our long drive and traveling along this road. 

Just before we arrived at the main building, we stopped for a photo op at this welcome sign. 

We parked our car and headed to the main building, called St. Petersburg. This is where we check in, pick up our tablichki (nametags), go through customs, and exchange our money at the bank. Throughout the week,  this is where we enjoyed our meals, shopped at the store, and met together for singing, cultural activities, and large group gatherings. One of the first things we noticed about the building is the Russian architecture. Many (but not all) of the camps are designed to look like their host country. The Korean camps also meet on this sight, so Korean-language campers get a little bit of Russian flavor to their experience!

All of the buildings are named after cities in Russia. The other, smaller, activity building is named Moscow. The story we heard is that the larger building was built by workers from St. Petersburg, so they got naming rights! 

We were greeted by friendly staffers dressed in traditional costumes. Since this is an immersion camp, they only spoke to us in Russian. Between gestures, pointing, and signs with symbols, we were able to figure out where we needed to go and what we needed to do.

Like any entry into a different country, there was a good bit of waiting in line. First, we stood in line to check in our American names for a week. In exchange, we were able to pick out Russian ones. A name can only be used once per camp session. We had looked at a Russian name website before we arrived and were relieved that the names we had picked were still available. I'm not certain, but I think the staff has a list of culturally appropriate names if someone didn't have a Russian name in mind, although if you didn't know any Russian coming in to camp (like us), it would be hard to know how to pronounce the names on a list! At any rate, for the next few posts, you can call us Аня (Anya), Олег (Oleg), and Даниил (Daniel).

Once we were newly named, we stood in another line to get our passports stamped and get our cabin assignment. Then, we went to another line to exchange our money from dollars to rubles.

At this point, we went back to our car to get our luggage. We had to do a little bit of sorting because of our travel the past few days. I think most people drop off their luggage first. The staff will go through the bags of the kids for contraband (English language resources, food, technology, etc.) The parents are given a pass. We were told to expect to carry our own luggage, but our bags were delivered to our cabin. I'm not sure if that was because of family camp or our Russian camp site, but we sure appreciated not having to make that ten minute walk with luggage!

Map in hand, we started our leisurely walk across camp. My grandparents lived about twenty minutes from Bemidji, so I spent many summers in the area. I was excited to show my boys the beauty of Northern Minnesota. Nature did not disappoint. 

Halfway to our cabin, we came to our last checkpoint, the medical cabin. Each family or camper went in alone for privacy. For medical issues, as well as safety issues, English is always acceptable. Sasha went over our health forms, took meds from non-family campers (she distributed medicine to campers throughout the day as prescribed, and was able to administer first aid as needed). Everyone was also checked for lice. Our son had his favorite stuffie, Laika, with him. Laika got checked for fleas. Once we passed inspection, we were on our way. 

Up the hill, past the medical cabin, and before our cabin, we saw the back side of the Moscow cabin. On the front side of Moscow is Red Square where we met up with our small groups each day. Inside Moscow is a small meeting area, costumes, books, a piano, and the arts & craft area.

Our cabin, Murmansk, was the furthest one away, which gave us a few extra steps for our FitBits, and also landed us a beautiful private spot with a view of the lake and campfire.

I think before we got to camp, my biggest unknown was the sleeping situation. Sleeping at camp is a totally different beast when you are a teenager compared to a mom traveling with your family. I knew that we would have bunk beds and that the cabins weren't air-conditioned, but I didn't know how much privacy we would have, how far we would be from the bathroom, how primitive the cabins may be. As it turned out, I was unexpectedly pleased.

Our first surprise came when we walked in the door and saw the full kitchen. I had pictured a cabin of just bunks. There was also a dining area with Russian games. Some were familiar, like checkers/chess. Some were sort of familiar, like the game of Cyrillic. And some were completely new to us...and in Cyrillic.

The second thing we noticed is that everything was labeled. I can see how these labels would be a huge help in an immersion environment!

When we arrived at our cabin, there wasn't anyone else there yet. In addition to the common areas, we saw that there were two bathrooms and four bedrooms, each with two sets of bunks, a nice size closet, one small four-drawer dresser, one two-drawer night stand, and a fan. (Remember pack smart and pack light!)

We chose an upstairs room next to the bathroom. As it turned out, there was only one other family in the cabin, so we had the bathroom to ourselves, which was very nice! Both bathrooms were very similar with a toilet, counter with drawers and space under the sink, a liquid soap dispenser, paper towel dispenser, and hooks for towels. The main difference is that the downstairs bathroom that the other family used had a shower/tub combo. Our bathroom had a shower only, with a little shelf in the space that would have been taken up with the tub. In hindsight, the tub bathroom would have been better with our son (who has some shower fears), but we made it work.

The upstairs also included a loft with an end table and futon. The futon seemed to be broken (we couldn't get it to convert to a sofa because there's a crack on one side), but it was a fun checkers nook for the boys. 

From the loft we could look down over both the dining area and the living area. We didn't need the stove this week, but the camp is rented out for retreats year-round. I'm sure it is appreciated on cold winter days!

For family camp, care is taken to place similar families together. I would imagine that could be trickier with small camps like ours, but we bonded well with our cabin mates, a Russian-American family with two older boys who took our son under their wing. 

We didn't have long to unpack before it was time to head back to St. Petersburg for dinner. I'll talk more about the food (spoiler alert: delicious!) and meal times in future posts. Stay tuned!

Photo credit: Lesnoe Ozero blog
You can see more photos of our week at Lesnoe Ozero on Facebook.

Other posts in this series:

If you have any other questions about Concordia Language Villages, leave a comment and I'll do my best to answer it.

I was not compensated for writing any post in this series. My motivation was to provide the kind of information I was looking to find. Consider this my very verbose evaluation. Keep in mind that our family attended the Russian camp, so some details may vary for those attending one of the other language villages. 

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