Alles Gute zum Geburtstag, Waldsee
When 75 students gathered in northern Minnesota to study German in 1961, few imagined the two-week summer camp would grow into an internationally recognized program.
As Waldsee celebrates its 50th summer, its birthday marks a half century of excellence and innovation for Concordia Language Villages. During the past five decades, the organization has played an unparalleled role in teaching world languages. A year of festivities will mark the occasion.
There's much to celebrate. Today the Language Villages offers 15 languages and year-round programming to more than 10,000 participants annually. Year after year, it proves that young people – and adults, too – can learn language and culture through play.
"We've grown and matured, but the fundamentals have stood the test of time," says Christine Schulze, executive director of the Villages and vice president for International Development at Concordia College.
Those fundamentals include traditions and rituals that Waldsee started its very first year. Villagers still immerse themselves in the language they are learning by adopting new names. They get passports when they arrive to a program and stay in cabins named after language-appropriate cities.
Those fundamentals also stress that participants best learn language not from a book but through active fun. Need to teach villagers words to use during a meal? Perform a skit about the love story between Swiss cheese and bread. Want to motivate a Villager to ask for something in German? Tempt him with Gummi Bears.
"Our approach is that you're going to have so much fun you don't even know you're learning," says Dr. Daniel "Karl" Hamilton, dean of Waldsee and a Language Villages staff member since 1972. "Every language does that now, but the idea started with Waldsee."
When Waldsee began, nobody guessed that marrying language instruction with a summer camp tradition would be so successful, that sports, music and games can be portals to another culture. Since the 1960s, research on how students learn world languages has supported what the Villages has always done intuitively.
Even as it takes time to celebrate, however, Concordia Language Villages will continue to move forward with its mission.
"We are still at the cutting edge of language acquisition. We're always looking for what's on the horizon," Schulze says.
To celebrate 50 years, Waldsee invites all former villagers, staff, parents and families to visit its culturally authentic permanent site near Bemidji, Minn., for Waldsee Fest July 23-25. Details for other weekend visits can be found at www.waldseefest.org.
An upcoming issue of Concordia Magazine will be devoted to the 50th anniversary celebration of Concordia Language Villages.