Celebrating sunshine and friends from afar!

God aften Gwynn Valley families and friends! 

Every Tuesday throughout the summer, campers and staff celebrate a country or group of countries represented by members of our community. The 40 or so international staff members who are hired each year through the J-1 Visa are actually here on a cultural exchange program – not a work program. The primary goal of their travels is to share their culture and ideas with the people of the United States and for them to learn about our culture. 

On previous international days this summer we celebrated staff and campers from Argentina, Costa Rica, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Turkey, England, Scotland, and South Africa. Today we celebrated our staff from Denmark and Ireland! Campers learned about these two countries through food, music, children’s stories, photos, videos, maps, language lessons, bits of history, and more! Lessons on Danish and Irish culture were sprinkled throughout the day, like little treasures to be found on a cultural scavenger hunt. 

Food is an important part of our international celebrations here at camp. Humans have built identity and connection through food for as long as we have existed, and we find that the act of sharing food from home that is familiar to you but new for others can be a really fun and powerful experience for our international staff. To kick off the day, campers enjoyed a full Irish breakfast complete with eggs, bangers (sausage), baked beans, roasted tomatoes & mushrooms (more of a hit with counselors than campers…!), soda bread (a traditional Irish quickbread that rises with baking soda and buttermilk instead of yeast), and fruit. For lunch, we traveled north to Denmark for Danish meatballs, orzo salad, green salad, rye bread, and fruit. One camper at my table said the meatballs were “much better than at Ikea” which Mads (our resident Dane) interpreted as a great success. For our last meal, we returned to Ireland for a classic dinner of roast chicken and potatoes, green beans, carrots, green salad, and homemade dinner bread. It was the kind of hearty meal that you might see on a Sunday dinner table back in Ireland or across the Atlantic here in the southeastern US. The crowd favorite for the day were the homemade apple danish loaves, which were served for dessert this evening. With children, it’s hard to beat dessert no matter what language you’re speaking! 

Campfire tonight was another great opportunity to learn about the culture and history of our friends overseas. Campers did an amazing job helping share that culture through Irish dance and by acting out a Tajar Tale in which the Tajar mailed himself to Denmark. For those of you at home who haven’t heard about the Tajar, he’s part myth and part GV mascot; he’s had lots of stories written about his adventures and folly over the years. Tonight’s story was brand new to us as Mads wrote it just for our international campfire! The Tajar took us along as he learned about Danish family traditions, the Danish language, legos, music festivals, cold swims and warm saunas, and the secret to being voted the happiest nation in the world for 7 consecutive years. We also took a trip to Ireland with an Irish-American staff member (Conor OShaughnessy) who brought us along as he reconnected with his cultural roots, aided by our Irish staff members Hannah and Emma.      

Of course, today was also a typical day in camp complete with a morning of discovery activities like mountain biking, blacksmithing, pottery, camping skills, nature, archery, horseback riding and many more! This was the first of three classes for our B day discoveries, meaning campers were attending classes for the first time and will continue to visit these areas and deepen their knowledge base as the week goes on. 

This afternoon held another round of ‘sign ups’ or free choice activities that campers can attend to try out new activities or revisit the ones they know they love. Sign ups included classics such as leaf print bowls at pottery, fishing at the mill, a creek hike to Connestee Falls, and watermat at the lake. There were also some internationally-inspired activities like making Christmas hearts out of paper (a Danish tradition) and Irish dancing, which campers performed at campfire tonight. 

The weather was absolutely gorgeous today starting with a cool foggy morning, peaking with some afternoon sun that made the lake very inviting, and then returning to cooler evening temperatures that inspire campers to snuggle down into their bunk beds or sleeping bags. As I walked through camp this evening, I relished the sound of the secret serenaders who sing a goodnight song to each cabin on camp. Tomorrow will be the half-way point for E session, but these last few days of E will also be our last days of the 2019 summer season. With nostalgia already setting in, we are cherishing each moment with the E campers!