A Melting Pot

One of the many things that make Fair Hills unique is its diversity of staff. Each year, it’s fun to get to learn about the various places that they are from — learning bits of language, tasting traditional food and hearing about childhood memories, favorite music and more.

Courtesy of Tenley Propst

Courtesy of Tenley Propst

Throughout my 10 years as a guest, I’ve met people from Turkey, Iceland, Romania, Jordan, Taiwan, Lithuania, Brazil, Canada, China…you get it. The list goes on and on. It’s amazing!
There are always so many languages, traditions and perspectives. It’s a wonderful atmosphere that’s created when everyone’s in the same room. It’s something that many of the guests, like myself, look forward to every year. Seeing new faces and learning about new places. It’s like a vacation within a vacation!

What’s most exciting, for me anyways, is getting to learn about the different cultures. Each week, Fair Hills puts aside time for what they call “International Night.” There, a few of the staff members sign up to talk about their country. They share traditional homemade food (which is always delicious) that guests are able to enjoy during a slideshow and/or videos about their home-life and their country. Guests are taught simple words and phrases and sometimes even teaching dances. Why can’t school be this much fun?

“I’ve always enjoyed (the international staff),” Marcia Hollestelle, a guest for 15 years (and counting), said. “I’m not going to get to some of those countries, so I love to get to know what they’re about. You know…what makes them proud of their country? I love hearing about what makes it enjoyable to live there. It’s one of my favorite things at Fair Hills.”

And I should mention, it’s not always just guests that attend International Night. Other state-side staffers go, too…learning about the cultures of their new-found friends and supporting them.

Photo by Tanzi Propst

Yazan Dese (from Amman, Jordan) sings in the Fair Hills Hootenanny as the monotone lawn boy with Mollie Lackmann, left, and Alexis Briard, right. // Photo by Tanzi Propst

“I think it’s important to see the differences in culture as opposed to living in a bubble,” Jack Anderson, Fair Hills’ 2015 8-14-year-old recreation director, said. “There were a couple people who had never seen the game of golf before…we’d help them learn the basics, which was a pretty cool experience for us.”

Another experience that guests are able to enjoy is the Fair Hills Hootenanny. It’s always a hoot! (pun intended) Every year, it’s amazing to see the things the staff comes up with — new songs, new dance numbers, friendly competitions and classics such as the barbershop quartet and even the wide mouth frog. They truly never get old.

During the weekly Hootenanny that the staff puts on for guests, staff members from abroad come forward to introduce themselves and to say hello in their native language. Then, everyone blends back together to sing some more Fair Hills favorites!

The energy is contagious and the show is always such a treat. Guests are acknowledged for their many years of vacationing at the resort — coming every year, often times on the same week. The veteran vacationers, as I will call them, become almost like a family, which makes events such as the Hootenanny even more fun.

Erica Allender, a 2015 staff member from Champaign, Illinois, really enjoyed getting to spend time with the international students this past summer…

“My favorite story is when I took six of them to Fergus Falls to get social security stuff taken care of. Two from Turkey, two from China, one from Kazakhstan and one from Belarus. So there was Turkish, Chinese and Russian being spoken — I was literally the only person in the van whose primary language was English! For most of them, it’s their first time to America so everything is so new to them, and it’s kinda funny to watch. They’re so fun to be around, and especially if guests have one of them as a waitron, they love learning about their country and culture.”

Courtesy of Tenley Propst

From left, Eligija Stalmokaite (from Vilnius, Lithuania), Edvilė Luneckaitė and Kamile Silevičiūtė (from Vilnius, Lithuania) go ice skating. // Courtesy of Tenley Propst

Let’s not underestimate the power of friendship, either. Even as a guest, I’ve made friends with some of the international staff members. Their fresh perspective and eagerness to learn is infectious. Listening to stories of their home and seeing photos from everyday life is priceless. Even getting to try out traditional ethnic foods is an experience. You definitely can’t get it anywhere else.

“They provide multiple worldly perspectives,” Mollie Lackmann, a staff member at Fair Hills for 8 years, said. “Their energy, enthusiasm and willingness to try new things creates a very fun atmosphere! The connections made at Fair Hills are life long!”

A week is never really enough time to fully understand what life is like in another country, on another continent or even on the other side of the world. Just because the summer vacation has ended, doesn’t mean that the friendships or the memories do, too. With social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, guests and staff members are able to constantly keep up with each other — sharing bits and pieces of their corners of the world.

It’s amazing to think that with the touch of a button, we can reconnect in an instant. It makes the world seem a little smaller knowing that we can bring ourselves together in that way. And speaking of small worlds…

Bjarni Guðmundsson of Hella, Iceland does the Pelican with Tenley Propst on top of a mountain in Iceland. Photo courtesy of Tenley Propst

Bjarni Guðmundsson of Hella, Iceland does the Pelican with Tenley Propst on top of a mountain in Iceland. // Courtesy of Tenley Propst

My sister, Tenley Propst, was a staff member at Fair Hills this past summer. She is currently on a plane over the Atlantic Ocean coming back from Iceland where she’s spent the past week with The GREEN Program. Through this program, she was able to study lots of things (that I don’t understand, so I won’t bother trying to explain them) related to engineering.

A couple days ago, she went super-jeeping through some glaciers (she’s infinitely cooler than I am, we can all be jealous together). Anyway, she got to talking with their super-jeep driver and asked if he had ever been to America. He said he had, but only to spend time in Minnesota. The conversation continues and it turns out that he was a waitron at Fair Hills back in 2007 when we were guests! What are the odds?!

“My mom told me to find those fun Icelandic people,” Tenley said. “Well mom….I found them! The rest of the ride was filled with Hootenanny songs and funny tales.”

I remember when he was working at the resort, actually. He was a wonderful musician that performed in the staff talent show near the end of the week. What a treat! The language was fun to listen to and the music was different than what I’m used to listening to and what’s on my iPod. These sorts of experiences, both at Fair Hills and abroad, you can’t prepare for…you accept them and embrace them as they unfold.

Fair Hills is, without a doubt, a unique place to vacation and a diverse place to encounter. I look forward to returning every year to see familiar faces and to meet new ones, to relax on the deck and to kayak across Pelican Lake. I look forward to the delicious food and to learning new things about the staff members that are roaming around the resort. I flip through the 3-ring binder in the lodge and read about where everyone is from, what their favorite sports team is, seeing their photos and giggling at their creative answers on the staff introduction pages each member fills out.

Courtesy of Tenley Propst

From left, Berkay Sezer (from İzmir, Turkey), Deniz Tekin (from Turkey) and other international students sit lakeside during International Night. // Courtesy of Tenley Propst

The staff is such an integral part of the resort for me. Without them, we would have no activities! No belly flop contest, no Hootenanny, no International Night, no water ski or sailing lessons, no waitrons to bring us delicious food, no waterslide, no teen night out, not even bingo or ice cream on the deck…vacation would be boring!

Fair Hills Resort has many faces to me — those of the international staff members, smiling and friendly, those of the college-aged students, eager to spend time with the kids and keep them entertained, the faces of the lodge staff that are there year-in and year-out, welcoming each guest every year by name as an old friend. It’s a magical place, if I do say so myself.

I can’t wait to return again this summer to meet even more international friends and to learn about more corners of the earth. I have such a fascination with travel and as a journalist, I love to hear others’ stories. Whether it be catching up with an old friend who has returned the same week year-after-year or being introduced to new friends and battling a minor language barrier, the experience Fair Hills gives it’s guests and staff members is something I bet you won’t find anywhere else.

Photo by Tanzi Propst

2015 international staff members pose for a photo following the staff talent show near the end of the summer. // Photo by Tanzi Propst