Magic Continues at TACL-LID Camp

It ended with a pinch, a squeeze, or even a simple hand on a shoulder. “Touch somebody who has made an impact on your life. Touch somebody who made you laugh. Touch somebody who is now your friend”. Such a simple gesture left 42 youths with a deep connection and impact after attending TACL-Leadership Identity Development (LID) Camp at UC San Diego during the month of August.

It had been 10 years since I last attended LID Camp and it was now my first time serving as a camp counselor. I was a camper from 2001-2003 before LID Camp went on hiatus for a couple of years. Even after the reboot in 2009, I never really had interest in returning.

So, why did I suddenly decide to return to LID Camp after 10 years? It was my first trip back to Taiwan in seven years last April that rejuvenated my pride and interest in being a Taiwanese American. That visit, led to my decision to study Mandarin at the Mandarin Training Center in Taipei for 10 months. Towards the end of my stay, I pondered ways I could stay involved in the culture that I grew to love.

I was approached by my older brother about being a camp counselor for the annual TACL-LID camp. I thought it would be a nice transition from my studies overseas and a way for me to continue being immersed in Taiwanese culture. My initial thought, however, was only a fraction of why I returned, because somewhere along those 10 years, I forgot the true reason why I came back.

“Connect” was the theme for this year’s camp and I do not recall if camp had a theme when I was a camper, but having one definitely made it much more meaningful. Some of the more memorable moments of camp came on Taiwan Night, a night where parents are invited to attend camp to watch their kids perform skits on what they have learned through their four days of camp. It was really interesting for me to be a part of this night because parents were never invited to camp when I was a camper, but having them attend now is a great addition to the camp atmosphere. I think it is great for the parents to see their kids have fun and to see their kids truly be themselves outside of the common perception by Asian parents that their kids are quiet or boring. I hope it was a sight for the parents to see their kids doing goofy dances (Harlem Shake), using funny Taiwanese phrases, impersonating camp staff, or even doing funky yoga poses. At one point during that night when I saw all the family members cheering and laughing, I realized that the campers were not only connecting with their fellow campers, but now they were connecting with their families as well.

But one special moment stood out that night and it involved one special camper. This camper had refused to engage in all group activities and did not like to talk to his fellow campers. He disconnected himself from camp in all ways possible and we were perplexed on how to deal with him. It seemed that as each camp day passed, he would dig himself deeper and deeper into his own hole and by the fourth day, most of us lost hope of bringing him out of that hole that he dug.

But for some reason that night, he agreed to play a small role in introducing the next group skit with a staff member. He went up in front of 80 or so people and gave a mighty shout into the microphone, “Super Suit, assemble!” before being swarmed by the 13 or so members of the camp staff that formed a group hug around him. This moment was shocking for everyone–in a good way–because nobody expected it, but everyone was ecstatic and happy to see this camper finally come out of his shell.

I do not think any of the family members watching understood why this camper was receiving a hug or why all of the campers were cheering, but all they needed to see was how much everyone at camp cares for and supports each other. Regardless of the fact that this camper was rather detached the past four days, in that single 20-second moment, that camper was finally connected with the entire camp.

Other than Taiwan Night, camp is still special in its own way. Seeing the moments unfold as a counselor really hits the soul in so many ways. As a camp counselor, there is nothing more satisfying than witnessing how much all of the campers grow in just five days. To think that most of the campers came to camp either by the hand of their parents or were just simply curious about exploring their Taiwanese identity, all of them did something that they had never done before and came out of it as conquerors.

Whether it was taking one for the team by downing a bottle of Thousand Island dressing in the food relay, working as a team to eat lunch with their hands tied together or thinking fast in improvisational games, the true lesson of camp is taught by putting campers in unfamiliar situations and challenging them to use their skills to tackle the situation. I am sure some of the campers will not realize or will not think they have changed in those five days. That is why it is so important for camp staff and counselors to remind them how just how special they are and how much they have grown by attending LID Camp.

When I reflect back at camp this year, I finally understand the true reason why I came back. We are all at this camp because we all share that Taiwanese American identity, but it is those magical moments and special relationships that keep everyone coming back for more.

Michael Chen graduated from California State University, Los Angeles, with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and also studied at the Mandarin Training Center in Taipei with an emphasis in reading and writing. He is a part of Taiwanese American Citizens League (TACL) – Leadership Identity Development (LID) Camp, serving as a camp counselor or helping with fundraising events. He is an avid sports fan and enjoys playing basketball, listening to music and buying vinyl records in his spare time.

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