Immersion Camps

5 09 2010

Since I got lucky enough to have a rare Sunday off, I guess I should write a quick update on what I’m doing with my life these days. I was hired as a coordinator at an English immersion camp company based in Buenos Aires. It’s a relatively small company with no more than 5 full-time employees in the office in a small apartment in the multicultural (read: English-speaking) neighborhood of Palermo. It employs roughly 30 camp counselors from the UK, US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Ireland to work at three day camps held in remote locations across central Argentina.

The general idea is to allow Argentine students from 8-18 to experience traveling to an English-speaking country without the expense of a trip abroad. It’s relatively common for students (especially those from wealthier families in Buenos Aires or Bahia Blanca) to study English in an institute before or after school or attend a bilingual school. As anyone that’s studied a foreign language knows, learning in school and talking with native speakers are two very different experiences. In camp, the kids are expected to speak only English with rewards for doing so and punishment for speaking Spanish. The founder of the company is insistent on making the camps as different as possible from Argentina, so everything in Spanish is banned, including basic hygiene products. To complete the illusion of arriving in a new country, the students receive mock passports and have their bags searched for any Spanish “contraband.”

The weekend consists of games from freeze tag and capture the flag to activities like cooking and crafts. The idea is to keep them having as much fun as possible while using English, but not forcing it on them like being in class. There is usually a campfire where they learn songs and make S’mores. The second night they have a special dinner that fits the theme of the camp. There are about a dozen themes, but some are Spy Camp, Robin Hood, Na Fianna, Pirates, Who dun it?, California Gold Rush, Medieval, and Flower Power.

Even the menu is carefully selected to complete the English-only environment. Many kids will eat their first full English breakfast or American pancakes with maple syrup at the camp. They can never believe that anyone eats eggs, bacon, and sausage at breakfast! The waitstaff are even separated from the kids to prevent any Spanish interactions.

As coordinator, I make sure everything at camp runs smoothly. I deal with any disciplinary issues, make sure the other counselors arrive on time, liaison with the teachers, and work on all the logistics that having a camp six hours away entails. Overall, I’ve had a great time with the kids and counselors at the camps. I’ve done four camps so far and will be doing one each week through October.

When everything goes right, camps feel more like vacation than a job. The only real downside is that I have to travel for hours on the bus every weekend and be away from La Plata and the wife on the weekends.

During the week (Monday through Wednesday usually) I teach private English lessons to two Argentine guys here in La Plata. They’re a lot of fun to teach and have a high level of English so there isn’t too much prep work.

Tim

Here are some lame-o pictures:

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3 responses

6 09 2010
Barbara Muller

Your pictures aren’t so lame! They show that the camp is fun. The skits make them think on their feet and remember what they have learned. I’ve enjoyed learning more about your jobs.

26 03 2012
cecilia

where is this immersion camp taking place? can you send further info?? I am a teacher in a school in Bs As and woild like to take my sith form students on an immersion camp.

26 03 2012
timkatstravels

Sure Cecilla, check out http://www.ecolonias.com/ for more information.

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