Welcoming International Campers at Wilvaken
May 19, 2017 by
Camp Q&A: Lara Willia, camp director at Wilvaken
Q: How long have you been the director of Wilvaken?
I’m in the process of taking over Wilvaken from my parents who’ve run the camp for 30 years. So, last summer was my first summer as director, but before that, I was assistant director for a couple of summers.
Q: What is your favourite part of your job?
I love interacting with everyone. We have a lot of international campers, so it’s really nice to get to know people from around the world and have the different cultures be a part of our camp.
Q: What does it take to be a camp director/counsellor?
I think you need to be really open-minded and carry a lot of positivity with you, see the good in every situation and see what you can gain from it, even if things don’t go the way you planned.
Q: What is the right way to deal with homesickness?
We have to realize that homesickness is a really normal feeling because it means that you’re being taken out of your routine. Parents need to be able to talk about it with their kid and say ‘you probably will feel this way because you’re sleeping in a new place, you have different people that you’re spending time with, different food that you’re eating…” but not let them get overwhelmed. Embrace the fact that they will learn a lot when they’re at camp and they’ll have the chance to do so many different things that they’ll be really busy.
Q: How can a parent or guardian choose the right camp for their child?
They should ask questions. They should have an opportunity to speak with the director or some of the staff to get a better feeling for the camp. I think we’re all looking for a connection to a place and not necessarily the activities that are offered. What you’re looking for is the culture that the camp has created. So, parents should be asking about what sort of routines camps set in place, what sort of traditions they have that their kid will get to be a part of.
Q: How can children learn or benefit from a positive camp experience?
I think it’s a really eye-opening experience. I think it’s an opportunity for kids to see a bit of a different life. Our camp is quite unstructured, so it gives them a lot of chance for self-guided learning and development and independence. And that’s not something that they get in the regular, structured, day-to-day life when they’re in school. So I think camp gives kids the opportunity to want to learn even if they’re not in a classroom setting.
Q: In your opinion, has the camp experience changed over the years and how?
From my experience, seeing the way kids approach camp, I think there’s a lot more anxiety and this fear of the socialization because more and more are used to being on their technology, on their phones, on their computers, and we don’t allow that at our camp. So, it’s taking away their crutch a little bit. But, that’s also why I think camp is more and more beneficial because it shows them that they can enjoy themselves, they can have real interactions, create real friendships that aren’t dependent on technology. And I see that change in our parents as well. They also ask for a lot more contact with their kids. It’s not always coming from the campers; it’s coming from the parents most of the time. They expect to have more contact with their kids while they’re away.
Q: Is there a camper or instance you remember that really exemplified the power and spirit of camp?
We have a big international community and one thing that I’ve been able to do and I know that other people have been able to do over the years is keep in contact with people they’ve met from around the world. And I mean around the world. We have campers coming from Venezuela, Mexico, France, Germany. We’ve had campers come from China, Japan, Russia. We talk about lifelong friendships at camp and everyone searching for these genuine connections, but I feel that we really do have that. I visited my counsellor from when I was 11-years-old in Switzerland two years ago. I had parents emailing me this fall after camp so that they’re kids who lived in different countries could get in contact with their fellow campers from the session. So, I guess it’s kind of reuniting the world a little bit and showing people that we can be cross-cultural and still have a lot in common.