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German camp celebrates 50 years at Concordia Language Villages mid-summer International Day

Kathryn Spenser, center, a second-year student from Chicago attending the Norwegian Village, Skogfjorden, at Concordia Language Villages, leads a group of students through a dance at the International Day celebration Friday afternoon. Pioneer photo by Monte Draper

If the whole world took a moment to witness the colorful gathering of youth at the Concordia Language Villages Friday afternoon, it would've learned a lot about celebrating differences.

"It's all about a shared goal. It's all about cooperation," said Patricia Thornton, director of summer programs at CLV.

Thornton introduced the opening ceremonies at CLV's mid-summer International Day Friday. Youth participating in the Chinese, Danish, Finnish, French, German, Japanese, Norwegian, Russian and Spanish came together for a day of chanting, cheering, learning and fun.

This year's theme, "Party like it's 1961," celebrated the 50th birthday of CLV's German village, Waldsee. In honor of its 50th, each of the language villages presented a gift to the Waldsee camp, followed by songs and dances by each of the language villages.

"It's amazing to get this many teenagers excited about anything, but to have them out dancing in the hot sun is incredible. It's all about a goal and a vision and a feeling of cooperation," Thornton said.

International Day looked very different 50 years ago, Thornton said. Actually, it didn't exist back then. The day wasn't established until around the 1970s.

"(Waldsee) might have done many different cultural celebrations, but there was no other village to come together with them," Thornton said. "A lot of (International Day) first revolved around competition in sports back then."

As time went on, Thornton said, International Day has changed significantly. Today it's a celebration of culture and language and includes several different events including a global summit, food and music.

Waldsee's 50th also reflects five decades of being a next-door neighbor to Bemidji.

"We really want to be good neighbors," Thornton said. "That's most important. I think we would love to have more people from the community come and learn about the villages. As you can see it's quite colorful and a lot of fun. We learn a lot."

Thornton said she has seen many ways in which CLV has grown since Waldsee first opened its doors in 1961.

"Our first year, 50 years ago, we had about 75 villagers and a handful of staff," she said. "There must be about 1,500 villagers here (Friday), not including staff and guests."

She added it takes a lot of work to get all the villages to perform a dance together at the same time.

"If you think about that small beginning, this is quite amazing. It took a lot of planning and coordination among villages to do this," she said.

CLV started with one language, Thornton said, and now has expanded to include 15 languages.

"This summer we have children from all 50 states and several other countries," she said. "The first summer there were only kids from Minnesota and from the Dakotas."

Thornton added of the 1,100 staff hired each year, 30 percent come from other countries.

According to Thornton, over the years the CLV transformed its food program from camp food to fine dining for villagers.

"We now serve cuisines reflective of the cultures," Thornton said. "The Spanish village, for example, could serve not only Spanish food, but also French or Arabic to better reflect the culture."

This year's International Day theme song was "Jai Ho," by A. R. Rahman.

CLV will offer its end-of-the-summer International Day Friday, Aug. 13. It will include villagers from Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish camps.