Love letter to a summer camp

Photo: Valerie Borey Hikes in the woods are a magical experience at Skogfjorden.

Photo: Valerie Borey
Hikes in the woods are a magical experience at Skogfjorden.

Nick Johnson
Trondheim, Norway

Skogfjorden. What better way to introduce this little slice of summer than with a proper pronunciation lesson. Never will someone who learned that name through my actions pronounce it as my father does any time it comes up in conversation: Sk(ah)g-fyuh-oar-dun. No. Sk(oo)g – fy-oar-den. “School” with a “g” instead of the “l,” “fee,” “oar,” “den.” Adepts will be able to remove the space between “fee” and “oar,” but that’s the gist of the name.

Okay, now with that little formality out of the way, what is Skogfjorden, aside from easily mispronounced? Easy definition: it’s a summer camp. Kids show up, no parents for a while, living in cabins with kids their age, swimming and running around, and making crafts. Awkward but somehow incredibly fun camp dances, hikes out to the lake, roasting stuff over a fire that you (the campers) made. Oh, but it’s a language village! That must mean it’s boring and there’s classes and lutefisk and weird sweaters.

On the contrary, most of the counselors and other planning staff are more childish than most of the villagers, so activities are rarely boring. And, oddly enough, I’ve never encountered lutefisk in eleven consecutive summers on site. Pickled herring, however, has captured my heart, forever and always. The classes, if they can even be called that, usually consist of more singing, dancing, play-acting and the ever-popular “simulations” than anything resembling the tenants of classroom rote and assessments. I distinguish “simulations” because of their disparity from run of the mill simulation/game activities. These simulations are: You have a garden hose with a nozzle that makes it spray and flail around slowly. You are Vikings and must attempt to slay the Midgard’s Orm! This sounds well and good, yes, until the other simulation counselors come out dressed in blue as the “waves” to keep anyone from actually capturing the hose, and occasionally sending a spray over the assembled Vikings. Not only is this a useful lesson in the mythology of Norway, it helps build teamwork, and utilizes imperative vocabulary and other interpersonal communicative skills. And hey, who doesn’t have fun with a garden hose in the summer?

Long story short, just because it’s a foreign language village doesn’t mean it’s a foreign experience. Some of the summer camp experiences are viewed through a slightly different lens (mythological faction capture the flag, for instance), but the parts of summer camp about growing up and learning to be a better version of oneself are just the same as any summer camp. Ending on a personal note, I’ll just say this: The site is beautiful, the activities are fun, the food is great, but what really defines Skogfjorden is the people, both the staff and the villagers.

This article originally appeared in the May 15, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.