One of most awesome experiences from this Latvian camp was how “at home” our students and the staff at our school made us feel. Their hospitality began as soon as we left the airport. We actually landed in Vilnius, Lithuania and then drove to Daugavpils, Latvia because it was a shorter drive than to fly in the capital of Latvia. The two ladies who helped administer the camp drove the four hours to the airport to pick us up, and brought us back to Daugavpils, the town we stayed in for a month. This was a huge time commitment for them, but they wanted us to feel at home and that we were appreciated there. Their hospitality continued the next day when some of the older students of the camp came early to help us get set up in our classrooms and to get to know the area better. These older students also helped out tremendously during camp as translators to help bridge the language gap. Each American teacher had an older Latvian student helper in their classroom all the time to help them with any questions or to help phrase things differently for the Latvian campers. These helpers not only helped us within the school, but also took us of a tour of the town letting us know of certain places we should go for what we needed.
On the first day of camp, we had what they like to call the opening ceremony which could almost be compared to the Olympic opening ceremony. It was absolutely amazing. I know I have already used that word a lot when referring to this trip, but it was easily the most amazing month of my life for the things I learned and saw. During the opening ceremony, all of the students were seated in the auditorium, and then all of the American teachers walked in and sat in the front row. The three American students who came along carried the American flag and hung it above the stage. Now I do not remember exactly what happened after and in what order because I was so overwhelmed with emotions. We were welcomed in by the director of the camp, Natalija with a beautiful speech. We were also welcomed by the school with several dance and musical performances. First there was a traditional Latvian dance where the performers wore the traditional cultural dress of the culture. I am not much of a dancer at all, so I thought what they were doing was incredible. We also saw a hip-hop style dance interpretation of the game “Mafia”. (Mafia is the game made up of multiple people, and people are assigned roles to carry out, usually by a deck of cards. There are usually two mafia members who secretly “kill off” the others in the group, a doctor who can save one person per turn, and a detective who can inquiry about who the mafia members might be.) It was so cool! And my homeroom helper, Renate, was in the mafia dance so it was fun to see her doing something she enjoyed so much. There were also some musical performances including an individual performance from a past camper as well as the school’s choir. Even though they sang in Latvian, they were so passionate about performing you could tell that the lyrics really meant a lot to them. Most of these performances and the speeches literally brought tears to my eyes because I really felt as though what I was doing was really going to make a difference and that there were genuinely glad we were there. After the end of the ceremony we were split into our homerooms and took pictures on the front steps of the school. For the rest of the day we played games to get used to each other, and then lessons started up the following morning. Throughout the camp, it was amazing to see the different personalities of our campers emerge and blossom! This is what I absolutely love about teaching, or from the amount of coaching I have done; seeing that growth. Nothing can beat it.
“Teaching is not a profession; it’s a passion.”