French Immersion: My Happy Place

Sometimes when my anxiety is a little too much to handle, I take a moment to close my eyes and go back to my happy place. A place of sweet grass, mosquito spray, and deep blue waters. A place of growth, frustration, and empathy. A place of culture, education, and silliness. A place of tears from laughter, singing, and always dancing. A place of being free. A place of being 100% myself. A place of finding the sun in the hearts of children. A place I never ever want to leave. Lac du Bois.

The main building of Lac du Bois, "Paris", photo by Jean François

The main building of Lac du Bois, “Paris”, photo by Jean François

Lac du Bois is a summer camp in Bemidji, Minnesota. It’s part of Concordia Language Villages, which is a larger program that has 15 villages (campsites) set up around the lakes of Minnesota. Each village has its own language and the buildings within each site are designed with authentic architecture from countries that predominantly speak that language.

Concordia Language Villages sign, photo from

Concordia Language Villages sign, photo from

The goal of these camps is to teach language through immersion as well as prepare young people for responsible citizenship in global communities.

Each summer, all of the camps come together to interact at an event called “International Day.” At International Day, each camp sets up a booth serving foods from countries of their language or has games set up for others to play that are native to countries that speak their language. They even have a “World Cup,” where each camp forms a soccer team and they all compete.

International Day 2014, photo by Julia Schaller

International Day 2014, photo by Julia Schaller

Lac du Bois is the French language village, and is one of the greatest places on Earth.

I first went to Lac du Bois when I was 11 years old. My family heard about the camp through friends of my parents, and my parents both decided it would be a good opportunity for my sister and I. My parents enrolled my sister and I up for a two week, overnight session. We all drove up to Minnesota together and when we pulled our car up to the camp, a counselor greeted us at the window of the car and spoke exclusively in French.

It was terrifying! My dad had taught me some french when I was really young, and my parents put my sister and I in French classes when we were growing up, but I was not ready for complete sentences or even answering questions.

After my parents left, I was hopeless. I had nothing to hide behind and there was no longer someone to speak to the counselors for me. I felt naked and embarrassed. The first night was rough.

Throughout the second day, I bonded with girls in my cabin and from around camp and from then on, I was in my happy place. I learned more about french language and culture in those two weeks than I had ever before in my life. I made lasting friendships. I laughed until I cried, and I cried on the last night with my cabin-mates wrapped in my arms.

Extremely embarrassing photo of my cabin, Lac du Bois 2008

Extremely embarrassing photo of my cabin, Lac du Bois 2008

I then went back to camp for the next four summers. My fifth summer, I went to Lac du Bois for a month as part of their “Credit” program, which earned me high school French credit. They say that one will learn more French in one month at Lac du Bois than potentially a whole year in school (hence why they offer the credit program). They were right.

Language immersion is said to be the best way to learn a language and culture, and it is 100% true. I spoke more French at Lac du Bois than a full year of French class in public school. I was forced to use the language to communicate, since the camp was total immersion.

The counselors are only allowed to speak in the target language, and even the food is francophone authentic. Counselors and villagers come from all over the world. There are always counselors and villagers from the United States, Europe, Africa, Asia, Canada, and India, as well as other countries.

Villagers are put into classic summer camp activities like canoeing or soccer, but they are also put into language learning groups. These language learning groups focus on a francophone region or time period and are more education based (but always include crafting, dancing, and interactive games).

Activité Canoé, Lac du Bois 2012

Activité Canoé, Lac du Bois 2012

The entire camp is sort of one big simulation. The counselors put on a show for the villagers, and it’s the most fun show I’ve ever been a part of. There is continuous dancing, multiple skits every day, and songs about everything (even about baguettes at dinner!).

Last year I applied to be a counselor, and I got the job. I went back to my favorite place in the world for my 6th summer, and had the time of my life. This time, I was the one required to speak exclusively in French and I was the one teaching others about francophone cultures and about the language. I was the one helping villagers cope with their frustration and homesickness. I was the one teaching the songs and dances. And, the amount I learned about other countries and French language, was way more than I ever thought.

Journée Sénégal, Lac du Bois 2014

Journée Sénégal, Lac du Bois 2014

In an article posted in the New York Times, author Sindya N. Bhanoo discussed how language immersion is more beneficial than learning through a formal classroom setting. In a study in the journal PloS One, scientists tested the brain patterns of subjects who learned a language through immersion vs. in a classroom. The tests showed that the subjects who learned the language through immersion had the full brain patterns of a native speaker, while the subjects who learned the language in a formal classroom setting did not.

The camps of Concordia Language Villages are hands-down the best way to learn a language. Being fully immersed in anything is the best way to learn, empathize, and adapt to it. Even a two week program makes a difference.

The lake of Lac du Bois, photo by Alyson Kriz

The lake of Lac du Bois, photo by Alyson Kriz

In the middle of the woods by the lakes of Minnesota lies little villages that change the way people see the world. These programs really do cultivate global leaders, global thinkers, and peaceful communities.

Swedish DJ bridges gap between global EDM and American popular music

Swedish DJ Avicii burst upon the music scene in 2011 with his breakout single Levels but it was this past summer that the musician took the world by storm with the lead single Wake Me Up from his debut album True, which was released on September 13, 2013.

Avicii_@_London_tentparty_(cropped)Many Electronic Dance Music (EDM) fans were skeptical when Avicii brought out a band equipped guitars, banjos and other instruments to perform Wake Me Up for the first time in front of thousands at the 2013 ULTRA Music Festival in Miami. EDM artists rarely use actual instruments in their performances so you can understand why people were confused when Avicii brought a band onstage.

The song, featuring a guitar strumming over a pulsating EDM beat with soul singer Aloe Blacc singing along ventured into new territory for the European-centric EDM community.  By incorporating Americana in the form of soul singers and a beat reminiscent of country music, Avicii was able to bridge the gap between global EDM and American popular music.

It was because of this smart combination that the song spread like wildfire once it was shared to mainstream radio stations across the United States on June 17th (the song peaked at 2 on the Billboard Hot 100).

Once his album was released, it became clear that Wake Me Up was not just an experiment, but a trend. Over the course of the 12 track album the Swedish DJ gracefully walks the line between EDM and other more ‘traditional’ music styles. By incorporating American sound with European style, Avicii has given EDM soul.


Eurovision Shows Acceptance of Bearded Woman

In case you hadn’t heard, this year’s Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst, of Austria, created quite the commotion.

Conchita Wurst-Creative Commons

Conchita Wurst-Creative Commons

You may be wondering what is Eurovision? I did not know what it was until last year when one of my European friends introduced it to me with this awesome music video. Eurovision is a annual singing competition. Each country in the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) has their own selection process and then sends one act to perform at the Eurovision competition.

Austria chose Conchita Worst for the 2014 competition. Conchita is the first bearded woman to compete. She also won.  Now you might be wondering what gender does Conchita choose to identify as? Paris Lees from the Guardian explains it well

Conchita is a clue as to what this gender diversity might look like in practice. “She” is actually a boy called Tom. Conchita is his lady persona, a strangely compelling mix of Katy Perry and Jesus, but it’s female pronouns, please, when the lashes are on – and male ones when they come off. Confused? This is gender fluidity and you’d better get used to it.

This means that she is a girl when she is Conchita and a boy when he is Tom. Conchita explained it as

It’s obvious for example that when I am Conchita, I use the female toilet, and when I am Tom, the male toilet. I can assure you it’s never a problem for women, they love it.

Now that you understand who Conchita is, we can move on to the contest, where she took first place with her song Rise Like a Phoenix.

It is a very fitting song that not only represents the romance aspect from the song, but also her own personal transformation and all she’s dealt with on the long road to winning Eurovision 2014.

Although she was able to overcome her struggles and ultimately win, it was not without controversy.  As you might imagine there were some conservative countries that were less than pleased with her entry into the competition. Russia, Belarus and Armenia protested her entry. Russian politician Vitaly Milonov even wrote to the Russian Eurovision selection committee asking them to boycott her entry by not sending Russian contestants to this year’s competition.

Despite their governments displease, the citizens were not dissuaded from supporting the Austrian contestant.

Eurovision Infographic I compiled the above map from the Eurovision Finale voting. As you can see all of the yellow countries, which include the three countries mentioned above, rated Conchita much higher than their Jury voters. It can be expected that the Jury voters would be under more pressure to vote how their government expects because they can be identified. The Televoters can be expected to vote how they feel because it is anonymous.

This shows just because people live in a conservative nation does not mean they necessarily feel the same way. Hopefully, this is a sign that Europe (along with the rest of the world) will become more accepting of all people, bearded or not.

Interview with British Soul Singer Midé

Screenshot 22:01:2013 21:06-2After releasing a string of EPs, British singer-songwriter Midé has released his long-awaited debut album ‘E.G.’

After listening to the 14-track project, I find it has a unique sound of jazzy-soul. The take your homework to the park-layout that comfy blanket-and chill type of sound. Every track is perfectly placed, and you can press play and not have to worry about skipping a song. Oh, and did I mention the band? Yes, Midé plays with a live band. And I don’t know about you, but my ears enjoy a good live performance. No matter how advanced technology becomes, there is nothing like the real thing.  It touches the soul.

On The Come Up TV writer Craig Abs describes Midé as a “vocal interpretation of Muhammad Ali, floating like a butterfly through the verses and (mildly) stinging like a bee on the hooks.”

Intense right? I thought so too. Paired with his sound, incorporation of live instruments and a description like that, I had to learn a little more about the rising artist.

Latisha Hickem: Midé, tell me about yourself; where are you from, and how old are you?

Mide: I am a Nigerian-born Brit in my 20s.

How would you describe your sound? You call it ‘Alternative Soul”, explain…

I actually went with Alternative Soul because I thought the having Alternative before the “Soul” kept the door open for some of the other influences I was putting into the music. I feel like people have a solid idea sometimes of what they expect soul music to sound like. But with me I find sometimes I lean in other directions while still maintaining a soulful element. Like I might have Folk Soul, Neo Soul, Soft Rock Soul (If such a things exists), etc. So it’s really a kind of disclaimer.

Many may be surprised to know you started out as a rapper, tell me about the change of heart…

This is a funny story. When I say I started out rapping, I meant more just reciting other rappers verses in college [and] high school… nothing too serious. But out of that came a love of words and poetry, which later evolved to become songs written to music. So maybe I wasn’t worthy of being called a rapper but it was one of the roads I travelled to get here.

Where are you right now with your music career?

I’m at a point I’ve never been before. I have just released my first full-length project and I’m going on a national tour to play live in front of audiences across the UK. I love the adventure of it and I’m also humbled to be able to do that for a living.

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 1.30.28 PM Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 1.37.53 PM Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 1.38.28 PM

How do American soul singers differ from those in London?

I find that in London, most times, it seems that Soul music comes from the outside in. We hear about a lot of American soul artists and we even support them when they come to town.  America, being the birthplace of that sound, is no doubt a kind of Mecca and we look to American Soul artists as a kind of pioneer. Of course no one can really have a monopoly on a style or genre, so there seems to be an emerging Soul collective in London.

Tell me about your debut album E.G. — the inspirations, the influence, and so forth, think: “E.G, decoded.”

The new album came about as a collection of songs I’d been working on for some years. I released a couple of EP’s to broach the subject of me as a solo artist and then I decided I wanted to be known as an album artist or a concept artist.

The inspiration for the songs varies quite a bit. Sometimes from something as mundane as people who gossip (Hilda), to a watered down expression of my feelings when I lost my dad (Holding On).

I wanted the album name to be something that showed the different styles and concepts I was capable of and thats where the name came from: “E.G” – For Example.

Where can we find you on the web, and hear more of you?

I really love to meet new people so hit me up. You can listen to me and find out more about me online here:




Les Trois Coups mixes street performance and comedy with their music.

French Busking Band is a HIT at T/F Film Fest

Les Trois Coups (a French busking band) recently visited the U.S. to perform at the True/False Film Fest in Columbia, Missouri.

Press play to watch a slideshow to learn more about Les Trois Coups. There is also a video of them performing and links to their social media pages below. Enjoy!


Here is a short video I created about one of their performances during True/False.

To learn more about Les Trois Coups feel free to check out their Bandcamp, Facebook, and Blog.

To learn more about busking, check out my last blog post, The Art of Busking.







One man band

The Art of Busking

People do it in the street. People do it alone. People do it together.

Some use one instrument. Some use many. Some even combine all of their instruments into one mega instrument.

Performers go by many names. Street performer. Troubadour. Minstrel. Traveling musician. Busker.


One man band

One man band

Busking is something that has gained popularity recently, but that doesn’t mean it’s something new. Street performance has been around for a long, long time (I’m talking back to ancient Rome old). However, street performance did not gain the name busking until 1857.

Paris, France, a city known for its music, is one of the best places in the world to busk (it ranks number 4 in the world according to this list).

And if you’ve got some kind of talent and want to busk in Paris there many helpful websites out there.

This is an 8-step guide to help you get started. This blog gives helpful tips such as places to do try your hand at busking, such as the metro–but warns not during rush hours. It also gives motivation to just go out and try your hand at busking.

If you’re interested in becoming a busker but not quite ready to get started, or you’re like me and do not have the talent to busk, there are resources for you too.

Check out this blog which uses a narrative to discuss busking. It is written in a way to help aspiring buskers pick the venue that is right for their performance. As someone who has never (and probably will never) busk, it was an interesting read because I was able to experience what it is like to be a busker, without having to actually perform.

Musicians in the Latin Quarter of Paris.

If you are interested in experiencing street performances, but do not have the ability to visit cities where they perform, there are now alternative ways to see buskers from around the world due to technology.

World Street Music is a site I particularly enjoyed using to discover buskers and watch performances. As the name suggests it has a variety of performances from around the world! You can search by country, type of instrument, or anything related to street performances.

Today busking is not just on the street. Technology has made it an art form that can be enjoyed anywhere.

 Look for my next blog post where I’ll focus on the busking band Les Trois Coups.


Against All Good Taste: New-age Music’s Global Reincarnation

To ensure the proper state of  mind for reading this post, find a comfortable chair, do some deep-breathing exercises, and let it all go. We’re about to get mellow.

At the end of last year, the fantastic reissue record label Light in the Attic put out the wonderfully blissed-out I Am The Center: Private Issue New Age Music In America 1950-1990, compiling twenty new-age composers, both well-known and obscure.

I should note that well-known is an extremely relative term when speaking of New-Age music, a genre generally cast aside as being boring, cheesy, and generally laughable. Auftouren argues that “Spätestens seit dem Italo-Revival ist „cheesy“ kein klares Schimpfwort mehr,” that is, “Since the Italo-revival, ‘cheesy’ is no longer an insult”. Take a look at Giorgio Moroder, father of Italo-Disco:

Giorgio Moroder, father of Italo-Disco

Giorgio Moroder, father of Italo-Disco

If Giorgio is no longer cheesy, then it follows that nothing else can ever be cheesy ever again.

Anyway, I feel like New-Age music as a whole is grossly misrepresented in the public imagination. Die Presse makes the argument that “New-Age” tends to be a pseudonym for poorly-produced soundtracks, used to dress up pseudo-spirituality, and I’m sort of required to agree. But you don’t have to buy into all of the metaphysics of it in order to appreciate it.  The point isn’t to be catchy, nor to be popular, but rather to be meditative and serene, and if you don’t like it, then get out. New-Age musicians wouldn’t put it that way, though. They’d be a lot more mellow about it.

Iasos would be especially mellow in telling you to chill out and enjoy the music

Iasos would be especially mellow in telling you to chill out and enjoy the music

So, if an American compilation of New-Age music is getting German-language press– favorable press at that, then what is the German connection? It’s a story that goes back to the heady days of 1960s West Germany, where people were taking loads of drugs and messing with huge synthesizers. German groups like Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel are the direct progenitors of New-Age music worldwide, and I dare you to listen to Ashra’s New Age of Earth  without being swept away on waves of synthetic bliss.

In response to the publication of I Am the Center, the New York Times ran an interesting post entitled “For New Age, the Next Generation“. It’s well worth a read, but I’ll summarize for you here: New-Age music and German progressive electronic music of the 1970s and 1980s has crossed the pale of “cheesiness” into the safe harbor of popular appeal.

The Times includes a quote from I Am the Center mastermind Douglas McGowan, and I’d like to use it to close out this post.

“Getting away from the noise of society is such a central idea in that space is silence and nothingness and emptiness…Once you wrap your head around nothingness as being a virtue, it becomes so much easier to appreciate the music on its own terms”- Douglas McGowan

Maybe we should all just get away from the noise of work, traffic, the kids, what have you, and slip on some headphones and embrace wonderful, peaceful, beautiful nothing.