Bringing A Summer Camp Traditional Camp Fire To ChinaApril 16, 2015
Can you hold a traditional camp fire on the 18th floor of an office in downtown Beijing?
In describing our overnight camp community, Scott has said many times that it is powerful enough that we could hold it in a parking lot. Thankfully, we don’t have to, as Kenwood and Evergreen is located on over 230 gorgeous acres of New Hampshire forest. But his sentiment is important: as great as our facilities are, our community could thrive in the most transitory of locations. We see this every fall and winter when we gather in Boston, New York, and Connecticut for Camp reunions, and our campers and staff are just as close with each other as on the final day of the summer.
One of the ways that we perpetuate this crucial characteristic of our camp community is through face-to-face home visits and summer tours. This past fall I wrote about how important these introductions are to our summer camp community. The experience and outcomes we generate are predicated on the idea that we build an individual understanding of each of our campers before each summer. To do so without meeting each of our new campers is simply impossible. So with that in mind Scott, David and I headed to Beijing last week to meet each of our newest campers from China.
Our time was somewhat limited, so we didn’t have the luxury of our typical 2+ hour visit with each individual family in their home or on a tour at Camp. Instead, we would be meeting them one evening in a high rise office building. It raised the question how could we effectively communicate the spirit, fun and friendship of our camps while also getting to know each camper on a meaningful level? For us, the answer was simple: hold a traditional camp fire!
Saturday afternoon we converged on the office space and set about transforming it. From the United States we brought with us a theatrical campfire simulator, complete with changing LED colored lights and a moving fabric flame controlled by a fan. I went about plugging it in…and it immediately caught on fire!! So after unplugging it and clearing the room of smoke, we did what we always do at Camp: we turned it into an opportunity for resilience and creativity. David saw that there were glass jars of colored beads sitting on a shelf, and he placed on top of a set of grey sofa pillows. Underneath the jars he put his cell phone and mine, with our flashlight apps enabled. Over the jars he put lengths of orange, red and yellow ribbon…and suddenly we had a campfire again! Problem solving and adaptibility: that’s what we teach at K&E.
We encircled our makeshift creation with mats on which the new campers could sit, and put chairs behind them for their parents. Grabbing the 15-or so potted plants in the office, we created a “wooded” entrance for our guests to walk through. Turning the lights down, we projected this picture of the night sky over our dining hall on a large wall. Over a small speaker system we played this recording I made a few years ago of the frogs singing down by the lake. And suddenly, it was if we were transported to one of our Camps’ two ceremonial campfire areas!
And then our families arrived. Just like at any other New Camper event, they arrived a blend of excited, curious and nervous. Scott began by welcoming our new campers and parents to our Camp family…pausing after each phrase so that it could be interpreted into Mandarin. While all of our new campers speak fluent English, not all of their parents do. It takes a bit of getting used to speaking in short bursts, but ultimately it becomes rather fun, especially when your jokes get a second laugh 45 seconds after you gave the initial punchline. Our team introduced ourselves, and I then asked each camper to introduce him or herself. David led everyone in his famous indoor rainstorm simulation, which was a huge hit. Then Scott and I sang a duet while I played guitar, and everyone sang along. Days before our trip we had learned that every child learns John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” in elementary school, so that is what we sang. The parents were so delighted that we chose a song they knew, too. By the third chorus the walls were shaking with singing like when our Evergreen girls cheer in the dining hall after dinner. Lastly, we explained the concept of a camp friendship bracelet, and gave one to each of our new campers.
When the ceremony was over David and I took the campers to a different part of the office to have them participate in a series of Icebreaker games. In minutes everyone was taking risks, giggling and having a great time. We were able to get a strong sense of each camper’s personality, and have groups and individual conversations about their goals and fears for the summer. We both learned a lot, and are extremely excited to have each of these campers join us this summer!
And while we were leading games Scott ran an information session with the parents. Their questions mirrored those asked at every other New Camper Party: how will I know that my child will make strong friendships? How do you determine who will live with whom? My child has a life-threatening peanut allergy — is your food really peanut free? It was great to see that some parental concerns are universal.
After about two hours everyone headed home, more excited and less nervous about this upcoming adventure to our campus in New Hampshire. Our first-ever indoor traditional camp fire in Beijing was a huge success, and we cannot wait for the arrival of our new friends. They are so excited to meet you all!