English Winter Camp

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My first semester of teaching is over, but before I could enjoy my winter break I had one more thing to do: volunteer to help with a week of English immersion for students in the annual Winter Camp. Twice a year the English Opens Doors Program organises camps for high school students (aged 14-18) during the holidays, usually one camp in every region, full of English activities with competitions between each regional camp. Punta Arenas is great at winning these, so I’ll let them explain a bit more about what these English Camps are with their winning infomercial:

[Video coming soon… watch this space]

Our camp had 5 native-speaker volunteers and 5 Chilean volunteers, to provide a week of English immersion for around 100 students. Every camp has a different theme, and this year was all about sport and healthy living, with the tagline Game On!. The students absolutely love these camps and there’s a great fun atmosphere, with a mix of older students who have been before and newbies who have no idea what to expect. You can really tell that this camp means a lot to these students, as it got very emotional on the last day when everyone had to finally leave – although that didn’t happen for a while because everyone was too busy signing t-shirts like the last day of high school!

One student even made me a name badge :)
One student even made me a name badge 🙂

Working on residential camps previously definitely helped as I knew a lot of games and activities to fill any dead time between other activities. This camp was very different to other camps I’ve worked on, mostly because it was indoors and for improving their English (and not outdoor activities) but also because it had a very Chilean feel to it, in that it was much more laid back. There wasn’t a strict timetable to stick to, the kids’ groups changed every day and activities were mixed & matched, with the competition and national events obviously taking precedence. The activities at English Camp are to develop their English communication abilities and let them use the language in real situations with real people, something which they may not normally get a chance to do. The creative skills these kids have are incredible, with activities like making decorations for lipdubs, creating songs and learning all about a healthy life giving them a chance to show off their art skills. Overall I prefer the other camps I’ve done because I like being outdoors and introducing others to how great it is, but that’s not possible with the weather here! The challenge on this camp was getting everyone to enjoy English, and also understand what you’re saying, which was a nice change. As I plan on still being in Chile after my teaching program ends, I’m hoping to help at their Summer Camp in January.

The highlight of the week is the lip-dub contest, a competition against other camps to produce the best lip-dub, shot in one take. Every camp gets the same song, but we’re only told what it is on the day we film it. So once we know the song, the students spend the day making props, costumes and decorations and learning their lines. The video is supposed to show that they understand the meaning of the lyrics, and that they’re having fun. Punta Arenas is brilliant at this competition, so obviously we won this too!

Wonderfully, the week ended with the annual Winter Carnival, a big event in Punta Arenas with an incredible display of music, dance and crazy costumes. They say it’s like the Rio Carnival on a smaller scale and I can see why. Despite the low temperatures dancers were out in their crazy costumes that barely covered them! I didn’t have my camera so my pictures aren’t great, but here’s something to give you an idea:

We even bumped in to a group students from the winter camp there! The parade is a big part of the Winter Carnival, but another crazy thing they do is have a chapuzón where every goes for dip in the freezing-cold waters of the Magallanes Strait. Unfortunately this was on the Thursday, which was a public holiday but we still had to work on the camp. If I’m ever down here again I’ll definitely be giving it a go!

For me the English Winter Camp was a nice transition in to the holidays, with it being very different to my normal classroom teaching and a nice start to some time away from school. After my holiday it’s back for another semester of teaching, but the end of English Winter Camp meant the end of the program for one volunteer from Punta Arenas. The English Opens Doors Program lets you be a volunteer English teacher for either one or two semesters each year – I’ll be staying on for the rest of the school year but it was the end for Sarah, who’s travelling around for a bit before heading back to the U.S. This organisation of the program also means that we’ll be getting some new volunteers next semester! They’ll be spread out in Chile like everyone from my orientation group from Santiago, but we’ll have around 5 new gringos joining us at the end of the world.

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