The first Frog Camp London experience
Two new Frog Camps - Eco and London - give students more reasons to love being a Frog.
By Kathryn Hopper
Heading eastbound on Interstate 30 toward my first Frog Camp, I knew a few things were certain - over the next 72 hours, I would learn "Riff Ram," snack on s'mores by the campfire and get to know a few of TCU's 1,640 incoming freshman.
I managed to accomplish all of that and much more - somewhere between the songs, the skits and the s'mores, I learned the true meaning of TCU.
Much more than a simple intro to college, my experience at the first Eco Frog Camp, held at the Sabine Creek Ranch 30 miles east of Dallas in early June, was an intense experience that forced self-reflection and ignited a desire to live up to the university's ideals of inclusiveness, tolerance and community service.
It started innocently enough with games that helped us learn each other's names and break the ice. Then we formed four teams - dubbed Riff, Ram, Bah and Zoo - which provided small groups to discuss students' fears and expectations as they entered a new and exciting phase of their lives.
Leading the way were upperclassman camp directors and student facilitators, with some assistance by faculty and staff members. As a staff representative, I was there to provide support and listen, but ultimately get out of the way.
Frog Camp attracts two-thirds of each incoming freshman class - a huge percentage given that similar programs at other colleges are lucky to get 30 percent participation. A key reason Frog Camp works is because it's largely organized and operated by the students themselves. They dedicate countless hours without pay to creating a supportive environment that eases the transition to college life. They also have to take part in the occasional skit that, at Eco at least, required Camp Director Brad Keiser to consume massive amounts of peanut butter and Student Facilitator Ellie Nash to get a mustard and mayonnaise shampoo.
While all Frog Camps have similar activities and challenges, each has a distinct personality. This year Eco was a new addition, along with the first international experience. Frog Camp London, serves incoming Honors students. Camp Eco was designed to promote sustainable living and earth-friendly practices such as reusing materials and recycling.
The highlight was the Eco Challenge, a competition of eight activities that highlighted teamwork and knowledge of environmentally friendly practices. One of the activities seemed simple - together we had to lift a Hula Hoop, but the catch was we could each use only one finger. Getting ?just the right balance and timing proved tricky and required us to really listen to each other.
The camp also included a cardboard boat race that demanded strategizing, some engineering skills and lots of duct tape. Even though a couple of boats didn't make it past the first 30 feet, we had fun cheering and laughing by the small lake. Then there was an afternoon of jumping on The Blob, an inflatable trampoline that propelled students into the ranch's lake - it was a fitting activity that symbolized their jump into the murky waters of college life.
One of the more intense sessions of every Frog Camp is "More Than Words," a dramatic reading written by Carrie Zimmerman ‘98, director of the First Year Experience at TCU. The performance intersperses real life news reports of hate crimes with derogatory slang words used to insult those of different races, religions, sexual orientation and gender.
After the powerful presentation, students discussed their experiences with prejudice and the conversation spilled over into personal battles including dealing with friends and family afflicted by drugs and alcohol.
While we revealed our own struggles, we ended up ultimately feeling stronger and much closer. In a scant 48 hours we had somehow morphed from strangers to close friends.
"Here we really talk about big issues, important things we're concerned about and not about where to go to eat or what we saw on television last night," one camper said.
The last day of camp was about giving back to the community - a first introduction to the university's mission statement: To educate individuals to think and act as ethical leaders and responsible citizens in the global community.
Students helped build a trail at the Fort Worth Zoo and weeded beds and mulched at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden. It was hot - the official temperature was 93, but it felt more like 100 in the sweltering humidity of a June afternoon. Still, the tasks were amazingly fun and fast as we laughed and talked while spreading mulch.
In a final exercise, we were given three beads - one purple, one white and one black, to represent the goals we had for the coming year, the coming four years and the coming 10 years. The one-year goals were fairly obvious - most students hoped to make new friends and land atop the dean's list.
The longer-range goals of some showed their true aspirations - building a solar-powered jet, starting an inner city fine arts school and helping educate African orphans.
Alexis Branaman, a junior who landed a coveted student facilitator position, said it best at the camp's closing ceremony.
"We do this because we love TCU and we want to make sure all the things we hold dear are continued on this campus after we leave," she said. "Now that we've gotten to know all of you, we know TCU is in good hands."
Frog Camp Facts
Year Frog Camp started: 1994
Different types of Frog Camps offered this summer: 6
Cost: From $150 for Frog
Camp Challenge to $2,100 for Frog Camp London
Number of freshmen who attended: 1160, about
65 percent of the class
Number of upperclassmen selected as camp directors and facilitators: 130
Number who applied: 400
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