July 5, 2014

I have always enjoyed celebrating the 4th of July.  It is normally a day for my family to relax, spend time with each other and friends, eat good food, and watch a firework show.  My first Independence Day abroad in 2011 was definitely one of the most memorable days of my trip and without a doubt the most unique 4th that I have ever celebrated.  The administrators at Lesnaya Skazka consider the 4th one of the most important days at camp: it is an all hands on deck type of day.  Although many of the campers and counselors have been a part of the celebration at camp before, for quite a few it was their first time ever celebrating Independence Day.

In planning the schedule for the day, I relied mostly on what had worked in 2011.  American games, baseball game, dance contest, and disco at the end of the night.  At the counselor meeting the night before, we went over the plan and everyone was ready to go.  The counselors here at Lesnaya Skazka are awesome!  They are hard-working, dedicated, passionate, and highly creative people who are always willing to help.  With their help, we were able to decorate the camp grounds in about 20 minutes.  If I had been doing it myself, it would have taken at least 2 hours.  We couldn’t wait for the children to get up in the morning to see how camp had been transformed into a land of red, white, and blue.

The morning of the 4th was pure madness for me.  The nice weather we had been hoping for was nowhere to be seen: it was cold and rainy.  Between leading morning exercises, reading the history of Independence Day skit I had wrote the day before, raising the American Flag with the National Anthem in the background,  and passing out American flags to the children so they could march in a “parade” to the dining room, I had no time to eat!  In fact, my first meal of the day was at the end of the lunch period.  Because of the rain, many of the morning activities had to be re-located and the long-anticipated baseball game was cancelled.  I was sad that the morning was looking so gloomy, especially for the people who were celebrating for the first time.

Thankfully, after the camp rest period and snack time, the sun decided to make an appearance, bringing with it some warmth. You could literally feel the mood and energy of the camp lift.  I was so happy!  The rest of the day went as smoothly as anyone could ask for.  The American Dance Contest was hands down the best concert of the summer: I have rarely seen the children have so much energy throughout all the performances.  I had created a list of American songs each group had to choose from and create a 2 minute dance.  I was blown away by what the groups were able to do in an hour.  An American-themed disco ended the day’s festivities and like the concert before it, was one of the best so far.  The energy was high the entire party and the kids were truly having a great time.  Between passing out American-themed stickers, signing autographs in the children’s notebooks, and taking pictures, I hardly noticed that the day’s events were over.  The only negative thing they kids talked about was their disappointment about the baseball game being cancelled.  To say I was tired would be a huge understatement, but my heart was so happy that I didn’t ever care!

It truly gave me chills to see how much spirit the camp had all day.  I have rarely seen Americans have so much national pride about the 4th.  All day, the kids were waving their flags, wearing their stickers, wearing red/white/blue clothes, and telling me “congratulations on your independence.”   One of the surprises I had planned for the camp was red and blue rubber bracelets (like the yellow Livestrong bracelets) that had “We All Smile Summer 2014” (the name of my project) printed on them.  Before lunch, I had placed them around the dining room at each kid’s spot at the table.  The looks on the kids’ faces when they got to lunch was priceless and magical.  With looks ranging from shock to happiness, gratitude to pure glee, it was hard for me to walk across the room because of kids running up to me and giving me hugs of appreciation.  Ever since then, the bracelets have been a camp trend!

I could write for many more pages about all of the memorable things that happened on the 4th, but the creative director for camp said, in my opinion, one of the best ways to sum up the tradition of celebrating Independence Day at Lesnaya Skazka.  He talked about how each country can learn from one another and how special it is that, despite the politics and history between America and Russia, we all could celebrate an American holiday in a Russian camp.  It isn’t traditional for Russians to celebrate their country in the same way that Americans tend to do.  In fact, many of the counselors were surprised I was able to get so many things with American flags on them!  An interesting point to make is that the Russian and American flags share the same colors, something I noticed right away when I was doing research before coming in 2011.  For whatever reasons there may be for the flags being the same colors, here at camp, it makes perfect sense.  People in both countries may see celebrating the 4th in Russia as a bad things, but at Lesnaya Skazka, it is a truly beautiful picture of cross-cultural friendship and unity.  I feel blessed and honored to have been a part of two memorable 4ths here at camp.

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