Talk about a change of scenery! From the endearing, but largely flat and civilized appearance of Cesano Maderno to the untamed forests and scaling heights of the alps surrounding Trentino, our last week with the program in the mountains was definitely a unique way to cap off our time in Italy.
With this new location also came many changes to our previous schedule and habits for the camp. Chief among these was that, instead of living in a house with our host families, we would all be rooming with each other in the rooms of a sort of simplified ski hotel that most likely saw its peak season in the winter and was therefore available to rent entirely during the summer. An important corollary to this fact was that the children were also going to be staying with us in the very same hotel and that we were going to be interacting with and looking after them – not just from 9 to 6 – but from sunrise to sunset. This meant being present for all three meals, directing every activity and excursion, and ensuring that the lights out hours and proper room assignments were observed when it came time for bed.
While it certainly was just as much work as I have made it out to be, I still found this week to be the most fun and fulfilling of them all. For one, the nature of the camp felt much more intimate, just as much due to the more concentrated number of the kids as the close-quarters of the hotel and the beautiful surroundings that we were all able to experience together.
The other part that made the mountainous experience all the more enriching was the sensation that each of the kids really wanted to be there. This seems fairly obvious given the fact that it was an optional part of the oratorio that the campers were able to choose to attend or pass up on. However, the result was definitely tangible for everyone as the number of disinterested kids on the sidelines of each game and activity was greatly diminished, and every kid of each grade and age was able to be included in virtually every aspect of the camp.
Though we never got to see the city of Trento itself as we had expected, we Americans were still able to make the most of the free time that we were given apart from the kids. Miraculously, we managed to stumble across a more amenities-filled hotel right next to ours that had an aperitivo happy hour every day from 6-7pm. There, we found 2 Euro beers and 3 Euro Aperol Spritz complete with various satisfying snack foods, all of which were served to us by an endlessly friendly barista, Rosy, and her sister, Marica.
It should go without saying that we made a ritual out of walking to this sanctuary every day for seven days, often times bringing with us other Italian counselors and even the priests and seminaries from the camp! These small breaks from the hustle and bustle of the camp were not just welcome respites from the children, but also made for a great bonding experience that gave us even more resolve to come back to the camp each time with even more enthusiasm.
If I had to choose one highlight in particular, however, it would certainly – if somewhat egotistically – be the night that we Americans put on for the rest of the camp. This included making a bonified bonfire for us to roast marshmallows on and make s’mores with, as well as performing several American and English songs for the camp. Even if the ingredients used to make the s’mores were less than authentic my American standards and the guitar I was using was somewhat less than fit for an audience show, we were able to pull it off without a hitch and much to the enjoyment of the camp and to our own satisfaction. The goosebumps I felt playing Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” while all the kids sang along and waved their phone flashlights in the dark was a sensation I will not soon forget.
This success was further built upon a few mornings after when we managed to again work together this time to make a (mostly) authentic American breakfast for the other camp counselors. We again had to make do with the somewhat modified ingredients and limited functionality of the kitchen, but ended up impressing not just the Italian counselors, but also the camp chefs themselves. Plus, we got to enjoy the fruits of our own labor afterward and share the experience of eating a traditional meal from our native land of which we all come from different places all in an entirely different country altogether.
These specific examples managed to highlight an already reoccurring theme that was made apparent to us repeatedly during this trip: do the best with what is available and more often than not something special will come out of it. Though it will take a few days at least for me to fully be able reflect back on this experience as a whole, I can say that it has definitively tested and improved my ability to be patient, adaptable, and perseverant, and I would not have traded it for anything.