The Wonder and Chaos of English Camp

From Monday, October 12th, to Wednesday October 21st, the agenda book I carry everywhere in an attempt to keep my life in order was… well, a mess.  One glorious, adventurous, wonderful mess.  Because that was the “week” of English Camp.

When I was first told about English Camp, it was described as just that: one week of activities which would replace class for a select group of students chosen by the English Teachers.  It would run parallel to Japanese Camp and Arabic Camp, as those are the other two languages taught at MAN Model.  As my counterpart explained the idea to me, I found myself getting unreasonably excited: English Camp sounded AWESOME.

“Listening Practice” means I get to expose my kiddos to “Seasons of Love” from RENT.

What didn’t sound so awesome was that apparently someone from the upper echelons of my school seemed to think that I should be the one to coordinate all of the activities of English Camp (therefore not attending any of my classes, of course), from seven in the morning until nine at night, for six days straight (even with breaks factored in, that’s over 50 hours of different activities), with one week’s notice.

Last year’s ETA Grace would have panicked, smiled, nodded, and spent most of the next week not sleeping in an attempt to accomplish the impossible.  This year’s ETA Grace is better at saying no[1].

Using “Guessing Cards.” (Major thanks to the English Language Fellow who gave me a PDF copy!)

After a bit of persuading, I convinced my school that it would be more beneficial for me to continue to join my classes (something which is actually a Fulbright policy… I CANNOT skip class), and participate in English club outside of those hours during the school day, while the other teacher involved handled the activities at night[2].  This was still a little over fifteen hours of activities to plan, in addition to my classes and other weekly activities, but while that still adds up to a busy week of planning and preparation, that is doable.

The activities I planned for the students went really well, for the most part.  We learned about U.S. Geography[3], the history of the flags from various English-speaking nations, the subtle differences in the English language from one nation to the other[4], and even spent a day learning vocabulary related to cooking (and then making our own delicious grilled cheese sandwiches and pancakes… and eating far too much).

The students in English Camp were from both the 10th and 11th grades, and from all different classes, so they were a really interesting and awesome bunch to work with.  It was all wonderful.


Then the chaos ensued.

The teacher actually in charge of English Camp was part of a nation-wide competition for the Best Teacher of the Year award, and there was a last-minute change in when the final stage of this competition would be held.  This meant that, instead of leaving for Java a week after English Camp was over, this teacher needed to leave the Thursday of the week of English Camp.  It also meant that a group of people from the central government would be visiting MAN Model to interview other teachers and inspect the original documents that made up this teacher’s portfolio; this in turn meant this teacher had to hastily collect all of these papers from their various sources over a week before they had expected to.

“Guessing Cards,: this time ones they made themselves.

Unable to attend English Camp because of all the other responsibilities that had been thrown at them, this teacher, understandably, turned to me for help.  I took on the night sessions of English Camp in addition to the daytime sessions, with no time to prepare (picture me mumbling rapidly to myself during a five minute shower while I consider anything and everything I might have in my house that might help students learn English, and you have a good picture of what that looked like).

I pulled out the various English Games I had brought with me, dug deep into my memory for every race or role-play game I had ever heard of, and winged it.

Somehow, it worked.  The students had fun, we all learned something along the way, and I survived.

When a teacher shows up at your house and tells you that you will be running four hours of English Camp in 20 minutes… grab every English Game you have (Bananagrams, Pictureka, Apples to Apples…) and go!

Thursday through Saturday of English Camp were postponed, because the teacher in charge was in Java.  Those days were moved to Monday through Wednesday of the following week, which meant a weekend of crazy planning on my part once again[5], but once again, it was doable.

We learned about body parts (and then played “The Hokey Pokey” again and again… I never would have dreamed that song would be so popular, but there you have it), American slang (kids are still shouting “That’s WHACK!” in my class whenever the English language does something particularly strange[6]), and English idioms.  Exhausted though I was, I gained energy from the kids[7] and had just as good of a time as they seemed to be having.

The various language camps ended with a closing ceremony that included performances from all the students who participated.  The students from Japanese Camp sang, the students from Arabic Camp put on a musical about a student’s first day of school, and the students from English Camp put on a play in which Barbie finds herself a student at Horror School, shunned by the vampires and ghosts that make up the student body there (and later wakes up, discovering the whole thing was a dream…).  It was absolutely brilliant, and I am so proud of the students for creating such a fantastic piece.  (You can see the whole performance here.)

Photo-bombing a student selfie at the closing ceremony.

All in all, English Camp epitomized so much of the experience of being an ETA.  It is often stressful, frustrating, and exhausting.   There are days when you feel you have no more left to give, but are still expected to give fully, and to many; these are the days you want to throw in the towel, to walk away from everything and tell everyone they just need to accept your failure.  But it is also hilarious, heartwarming, and rewarding.  It gives you the opportunity to live and learn with amazing people, of all ages; it gives you a reason to smile, a reason to love life for all it is.

The English Camp Crew!

It makes you go home at the end of a good day, glad you stuck out the bad days.  Because as hard as the bad days are, the good days are so much better.

[1] I’ve always objectively known that, as an educator, I need to prioritize quality over quantity, and that it is okay to not take on project you don’t have time for or you are not qualified for.  But I’ve also always been really bad at saying no when people ask me for help, even if I’m not really able to give quality assistance.  Last year, this led to stretch myself so thin that I ended up really, really sick; it was an awful experience, but it also seemed to be the lesson I needed.  I won’t pretend I’m suddenly particularly good at not overworking myself, but I am getting better.

[2] This teacher was actually getting paid a bonus to run English Camp.  I, meanwhile, am not allowed to receive any payment outside of my stipend… this did help alleviate the guilt I still felt about saying no to running all of English Camp by myself.

[3] This was a topic requested of me.  I basically used it as an excuse to talk about the diversity of the United States, both in regards to its nature and the cultural influences that make it up (all you need to do is have students look at the names of the capitals of the different states in order to have an opening to do so).  The kids got really excited about making comparisons to the diversity present in Indonesia

[4] These two were topics I persuaded my school to let me include.  Although I am part of an exchange program from the United States, and much of the cultural exchange I do is very directly between the United States and Indonesia, I also know that students from Indonesia who are interested in studying abroad will not always end up in the States, and I do not want to give them limited exposure to the English Language.

[5] Because my class schedule is heavier towards the end of the week, I had more free time during the beginning of the week for English Camp.  This meant than when the second part of English camp was moved to the beginning of the following week, hours in which I was in charge were actually added to the schedule.

[6] I actually have my fellow ETA Michael, to thanks for this activity.  The best teaching is often stealing, as a professor once told me.

[7] I’ve found that teaching is something that gives me energy continuously, while also taking energy but in a way that I am unaware of until I get home and my very bones are tired.  I can’t imagine a better career to be in.