It’s the 8th summer and there is no end in sight. If you had asked me back in 2009 that my summers would be spent like this and for 8 years running I would have shook my head and smiled in disbelief. Now, 8 years in, I am still shaking my head and smiling, not knowing if that is a good or bad thing but maybe just bewildered at how I’ve managed to come to England year in and year out for 6 weeks at a time, putting my summers in the hands of English dining hall food, unpredictable weather patterns and highly questionable temps for the middle of July.
With that said, there’s no question that after 8 years there is plenty of experience and perspective built up to make for some reminiscing on it all. The good the bad and the ugly as they say. Summer English language camp in England is the stuff of dreams for parents whose kids are learning English as a second language. I understand the attraction. Kids get to spend time in a country where the language is spoken everywhere by everyone (well, most people) and at the same time, have some English lessons with native speakers of English. To top it off, they still get the activities and fun that any camp offers kids and teenagers in the summer months. What’s not to like about that deal? Parents must be salivating at the mouth for an opportunity to send their kids off to the big island for some “culture”. Being an American, I’ve always found it a culture shock myself. The accent is different, in every town basically! The food leaves something to be desired but the English do love their spuds like the Polish love their ziemniaki, and that’s probably where the similarities end. However, I’ve discovered England’s inner beauty that most tourists miss on their visits. I concede that I had reservations in year 1 and wasn’t expecting much. I was proven wrong, and that’s just fine. I love surprises!
Fortunately, my visits have always offered opportunities to learn and not just teach. Being a foreigner here myself there always seems to be something to learn. Just today the dining hall served up “toad in the hole”, an English specialty that leaves me shaking my head and smiling still, the vegetarian option please! There are also plenty of words that are either directed at me or that I overhear that quite frankly I have never heard before. So there is language learning going on for myself and my students. Not going to complain about that, it’s a constant reminder that there is always learning to be done, regardless of age or occupation.
One of the greatest assets of coming to these summer camps is the international classes I have taught over the years. Classes with kids/teenagers coming from all corners of the earth. The collaboration that takes place is a sight to see I tell ya. If there is anything that they get from the experience, it is meeting so many kids from completely different backgrounds, religions, cultures and nationalities than theirs. That’s something special, because it allows them to really be open-minded to the differences and similarities that make us human, and that is a beautiful thing we can easily miss when we just spend time around people who share the same values and roots we do. If the world has any chance of being a better place it will be because of kids like the ones that come to these camps who have a chance of making the real difference in the future. Perhaps….
You gotta respect that. I mean, you study all year, in and out of school five days a week. Summer comes and now you are still attending English lessons for 3 hours five days a week? Pffff damn! I would be starting a revolution if I were a teenager! Bring the damn house down! I see it in their faces. Some have the look that says it all, “I don’t want to be here, so don’t try anything sneaky here teacher!” The look, is a stare down though, because I look right back “we will see about that!” I don’t confront. I treat it as a challenge because here the goal is to learn but through production, through practice. The trick for us teachers is to get students to learn without them realizing it. Which means, it’s got to be subtle, fun, and memorable. It’s a delicate mix which just takes a couple of rowdy teenagers to ruin it. Of course if I manage there is a wonderful satisfaction in it. See, teenagers will absorb it all up without resistance if you get them to buy into your approach. Adults are much more resistant and stubborn. When I am home, lessons have a different atmosphere.
I love that change, that challenge. It’s a breath of fresh air, well, living in Krakow that is actually quite literal really. I just see it as another opportunity for growth though. I believe that if you love what you do then it’s natural to look for opportunities for growth, for challenges, the unknown is exciting and adventurous and through my world travelling I’ve learned that that is the best adrenaline rush you can experience. In the meantime, the food could be a bit better 🙂 but never mind that. 8 years! Birthdays spent with strangers, with co-workers, with new friends, away from loved ones, it’s the story of my life I suppose; no point in fighting it. New friends are great though. It’s worth mentioning that conversation is also different here. I mean, it’s not rocket science. Speaking with native English speakers can’t and will never be the same as speaking to a Polish person. I don’t mean that one is better than the other, just different. I believe the kids learn this coming here. It’s another gentle reminder of our differences.
Is it summer bliss? Most would question that. I have myself. 8 years? Wow, that’s big, huge! Would I rather be on a Greek beach with an ice coffee? Hmm, perhaps but I’ve done that plenty. But England has got the antidote, in Somerset at least. Cider! No place does it better! So if you want bliss it’s a walk into town. Bottoms up!