Culver Summer School & Camps Retrospective 2017

It’s now been adequate time since I left Culver and I’ve been thinking about writing a retrospective on my experience there.  Personally, I felt like I grew a great deal mentally and spiritually during the six weeks and have had my life permanently changed as a result of my short tenure at Culver.  I am grateful of my time there and so thankful of the opportunity to work at such an institution.  Fair warning, this is going to be a long post, as I have many thoughts on this experience.  

For those who didn’t know, I had initially applied for their fellows program, however after being notified that I didn’t make the cut, I decided to pursue my graduate school education first.  When I finally made the decision, it was already the middle of April and I was scrambling to find summer employment.  In my head, most places hire in February or even March, but most definitely not the middle of April.  As a result, I began frantically sending out my cover letters and resumes to anyone and anything I could think of.  Summer schools, summer camps, theaters, whatever I thought I was qualified for I applied.  After about a week, I decided to email Culver back seeing whether or not they had any summer positions available.  Within hours I was told that there was an opening and that I would be receiving a phone call from the summer school director that would serve as my interview.  24 hours later, I got the job and also knew how much I would be getting.  This quick turnaround from frantically searching to being given a position right away was such a blessing as I was so afraid that I wouldn’t have anything to do for the summer.  Soon, I was at Culver, getting ready to have a productive summer.

I want to once again reinforce that my time at Culver, where I had both positive and negative experiences, was one where I found mental and spiritual growth as well as a larger appreciation of the field I was entering in and the people in these areas.  I had never been to the Midwest, much less Smalltown, USA (Culver, the town, has a population of around 1500 during the year, technically it increases a bit during the summer as a result of summer vacationers on the lake, but it still feels very small).  Anyhow, when I first arrived, I experienced something akin to culture shock all over again.  Being in such a small town but also where 99% of the staff was white was scary.  Part of me wondered whether or not I had made the right choice in coming to Culver for the summer and in the same thought, if I had dodged a bullet for not coming to Culver for the year.  Going through orientation, speaking with my different colleagues and just observing everything was all contributing to a feeling of dread and fear.  It was in those early days where I had a minor anxiety/wave of depression hit me.

Another part that contributed to that fear and depression was the lack of a comfortable spiritual environment.  The spiritual services at both the church and the religious hall on campus had very similar tones.  One or two hymnals followed by prayer chanting, and a total of 5-10 minutes of actual sermon.  I was deeply concerned.  Even though InterVarsity and Reality LA were places that were comfortable, I still learned things because talks and sermons would be 45+ minutes.  As a result, I made a conscious decision to take my faith and my learning into my own hands.  I decided to revisit a discipline that I struggle with constantly as a Christian, which was, to my chagrin, reading the Bible daily.  I never had the patience nor the discipline to commit to reading the Bible everyday.  Yet, as I found myself spiritually dry and feeling completely overwhelmed, I surprisingly turned to scripture.  I wish I could tell you that it was hard, and that I struggled everyday to keep up with it, and yet once I started, I couldn’t stop.  It felt so amazing to actual go back and learn brand new things that I had never considered before as a result of never reading passages.  I committed to continuing my “Complete the Bible Plan” of reading a chapter everyday, in which I was in Exodus (to be fair, I started this goal back in January of 2016), and also one chapter of whatever InterVarsity had prescribed on their Daily Bible Study.  I have to say, ever since I started, I felt like I gained a completely new perspective on God and Christianity.  Through the studies, I went through Acts, Psalms (sometimes both instead of consecutively), Philemon (short book I know), and others.  It’s been an amazing time.  Even though I got really frustrated with Exodus, knowing that the IV curriculum might be different kept me going.  Going into scripture kept me grounded even when things got hard, tiring, and frustrating.  I knew that I could always come back to the word as well as pray whenever I was in hurt.  As a result, for those who followed my blog over the summer, I delved into faith a lot more than I expected when writing posts.  I found myself seeking God and often times allowing myself to have my paradigm shifted, to allow me to see His glory and His majesty in all things.  I hope that as I continue to study the word daily, that I can continue to grow and learn from Him.

I think what I really liked about Culver was how the experience gave me an accelerated teaching experience.  From crafting a daily lesson plan, to executing said plan and adjusting accordingly.  While I only ended up teaching two weeks out of the entire six and my class was only three students, it was still a lot of fun to have so much responsibility and to directly share my knowledge to my students.  Working with students was a lot of fun.  From the high schoolers who actually took my class, to the lower and middle schoolers who were on my tech crew.  My tech class, as I wrote earlier, had no real expectation to commit anything they learned to actual memory, but the students I had in the crew actually had to pay attention because whatever I taught and showed them, they would need to do pretty well for the show.  I realized that, while I do prefer teaching high schoolers, working with middle and lower schoolers keeps things fresh.  At that age, they are inquisitive and are able to think outside the box more, whereas high schoolers want to learn, but in some cases, their learning is hampered by institutional expectations of learning only in a specific fashion.  I also realized that as someone who studied both technical theater and international relations, teaching social studies and teaching tech theater require at least two different teaching styles.  Tech theater is way more hands on and requires more repetition of proper technique and skill application whereas social studies can be taught in a classic classroom setting.  That being said, one of my favorite activities I did relating to history was in 5th grade when my teacher: Mr. Currinder, had this amazing simulation of the Age of Exploration/Colonization that I just loved participating in.  I think ideally I get to somehow teach both, either in the classroom teach social studies, but also still be involved in theater tech as a co-curricular.  I really enjoyed all of my students and it was such a blessing to have such wonderful students to work with. 

It wasn’t an easy summer, definitely one that had more unexpected challenges than most, but it was still a rewarding one.  I had a sense of pride when it came to working with students and seeing another one of my lighting designs go up.  I appreciate how my previous experience as a seasoned PAF technician at Oxy helped me not only acclimate quite quickly to the theater, but also allowed me to better mentor students in working in the theater.  Being a lighting designer in a brand new theater was a bit harder than expected, as I was so used to the tension grid at Keck Theater at Oxy, nonetheless it was still exciting to encounter challenges and to find solutions to those problems.

Looking back, there are many people who I must mention who helped me in my work but also kept me sane throughout the whole summer:  A great big thanks to the Covens, who not only hired me but also gave me the chance to take ownership in both my classes and in the technical side.  To Devon and Eleanor, who answered all my questions and also kept things “fresh” and “lit” all the time during the show.  To Monica, who save my butt more often than I can count, for listening to me and for sharing and for just being there.  To my wonderful tech students, who gave me a chance, and trusted me with their learning.  I will miss you all, and if I were to ever come back and visit, ya’ll would be the first people I would find.

Of course, I’ve purposefully left out some of the more negative experiences and aspects of my time at Culver, but I do think it’s necessary to note that anything that I have experienced, I have confidence that the administration at Culver will take steps to make changes to make Culver the best place for their students.  For those who are interested in having an honest conversation with me, I’m more than happy to share, but otherwise thanks for reading about my summer!  I look forward to sharing about my next teaching endeavors very soon!

Before I end, I must mention some highlights of my time there:
1. AT THE CONTROLS OF A SMALL PLANE! LIKE SERIOUSLY!  It was so awesome to have that opportunity, and while it was brief, it reminded me of the flight simulators I used to play as a kid.
2. Having Chinese food in South Bend.  I have elaborated about this quite extensively in this post.
3.  Care packages: Thanks to both my parents and Deborah for sending me small packages filled with things that I love from Taiwan like candy and snacks!  They helped kept me sane in some of the days when the food was meh.
4. Designing!  Never thought that I would design the lights for a show on paper versus VectorWorks and yet I did it.  Still quite a bit to learn but going through it once before made it much more easier and less daunting.
5. Meeting so many people:  As I’ve elaborated so much above, there are certain people that really made my experience special.  I will continue to treasure those friendships that I have made and I secretly hope that my students will continue to explore technical theater in their futures.


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