A Place in the Woods
There’s this place in the woods, a place where I sort of grew up, really. Every summer, kids from all over the U.S. (and some from Norway!) gather to learn Norwegian, av alle ting! They have fun just like any summer camp in the U.S., except…there’s something a little extra special in the air there. Kids laugh, eat, sing, even play soccer på norsk. Even though the newest of arrivals might not be fully aware of it, within a few days, they’ll be speaking Norwegian all day long as well.
This immersion technique has made my Norwegian what it is today (Northern dialect and all!). While my grandmother was bound and determined that we would all learn or at least understand some Norwegian, Skogfjorden was where I really dived into the language and culture of Norway–past and present.
Once I mention Skogfjorden to Norwegians, they’re usually curious to learn more about this peculiar concept. For them it can be difficult to envision a summer camp where kids voluntarily learn Norwegian AND have fun. And yet, I was at Skogfjorden in some way, shape, or form, for well over a decade of my life, first as a camper at seven, and finally as a counselor and cook at 22. And although I stopped there, I knew plenty who kept (keep) going back every summer, to teach yet another generation of eager Norwegian-language learners.
Skogfjorden crosses my mind a lot, of course. About this time every year, it becomes especially nostalgic, as the counselors are at orientation to prepare for a very full summer. Sometimes I think back to specific scenes, like when Bjørn gave us our first taste of woodworking, or the day we painted the benches pictured above, on which we painted with pride.
Nowadays, when on a run in the woods of Oslo, the smells of the birch forest and a distant campfire sometimes will capture me, and before I know it, I’ll be back to the cool, damp summers of Northern Minnesota. Given the coast is clear, I’ll hover over that spot or run in little circles, taking BIG inhales, remembering whatever that smell triggered.
Most times, however, I find peace in remembering the sounds, especially those outside of the kiosk during ‘free hour,’ of kids playing ball games inside, and even the sound of the counselor’s lanyards making the keys dance as they frantically ran to their next activity.
My childhood and early adulthood at Skogfjorden without question helped shape who I am today. Although it’s been eight years since I was on staff, I still think about camp often, of the people, and of the pea soup on a sweltering hot day. I hope that if you have the chance, that you send your kid, or your niece or even your neighbor, to summer camp. Any camp will do, really. (I also spent my summers at Camp Ewalu, which will get its own post some day, for sure). They’re probably all good. Of course, Skogfjorden is a good bet, and is run by an organization that has 15 language camps to choose from. So the world is kinda yours (err, the kid’s).
If you have kids in your life, encourage them to try something new this summer, to jump out of their comfort zone (and get them out of the house not least). Before you know it, they’ll become global citizens.