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Voyageurs is a French language and culture program at the Concordia Language Villages based in northern Minnesota. Recreating the life of the voyageurs, French fur traders of the 18th-century, campers cook over an open fire, bathe in the lake, and complete a grande voyage by canoe during the two- or four-week stay.
The Voyageurs base camp is located on Turtle River Lake outside Bemidji, Minnesota in the vicinity of other CLV language camps. In order to best imitate voyageurs life, there is no electricity or running water at the site. Campers sleep in tents organized into brigades and gather at the feu de camp for meals and activities. For a portion of the session, villagers are away from the base camp on the grand voyage canoe trip.
Voyageurs tries to teach the French language in a historical and environmentally friendly context. Music, sports and games, clothes, and food are all rooted in Nouvelle France or Ojibwe traditions. French surrounds the villagers all day. Everything from putting on bug spray (antimoustique), singing traditional rowing songs, and learning about beadwork takes place entirely in the French language using techniques from the Full Immersion language acquisition philosophy.
All staff members at Voyageurs are at least bilingual in French and English, yet all activities are presented in French. Much of the staff are college students or full-time language teachers. Voyageurs staff come from all over the United States and the French-speaking world. They are responsible for the day-to-day running of the program, live in brigades with the villagers, and teach villagers during the daily small-group language lessons.
Villagers stay for either a two-week session or four-week session, which may earn them either the equivalent of one year of high school French or one class of college credit. These intensive courses are somewhat non-traditional since they are conducted in a camp environment and the time is highly condensed. All teachers for the credit programs are accredited, as is the curriculum itself. All credit classes are conducted in French, even for beginners. One-week sessions are also available for younger villagers.
When villagers arrive at Voyageurs, they pick a new identity for themselves, including a traditional French voyageurs name. During their stay, the villagers will be known by this name and not their American one. They will live in brigades, groups of tents, named after major stopping points of the French fur trade: Montreal, Grand Portage, and the like. Immediately, villagers will begin canoe lessons to prepare them for the grand voyage, a week-long (in the case of two-week villagers) canoe trip simulating the voyage of the original voyageurs.
Both at base camp and during the grand voyage, songs and meals are key to the experience. Villagers learn to love Rubaboo, a pea soup concoction which, with enough garlic, keeps away the mosquitoes. Songs wake the villagers, pass the time during the day, keep rhythm during the long canoe trips, and lull the villagers to sleep at the end of the night, as well as creating a sense of community and cohesion among the villagers and staff.