My Spanish volunteering experience
Erin Ward chats about helping to teach English in Spain.
This is an opinion of a young person and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of SpunOut.ie. It is one person's experience and may be different for you. If you'd like to write something for SpunOut.ie please contact email@example.com.
It’s that time of year again! Perhaps you’re making your New Year’s resolutions, or contemplating how you can make a change in 2015. Has volunteering crossed your mind? How about travel? If so, now is the time to apply for Diverbo’s Pueblo Ingles for Teens!
Pueblo Ingles for Teens is a language/cultural immersion programme. Native English-speaking teenagers (called ‘Anglos’) come from all over the world to help Spanish students practice English. As a veteran ‘Anglo’, I couldn’t recommend the programme enough. I thought I’d share a little about my experiences in the hope that it will encourage others to apply for Summer 2015!
You can apply with a friend, but there’s no need to be intimidated by the prospect of going solo. In case you have any doubt, there’s no time to feel lonely at Diverbo! In fact, from the moment you arrive at the gate in Dublin airport you’ll find yourself surrounded by other volunteers and enveloped in that special atmosphere - there’s something thrilling about boarding a plane with a large group of other young people, headed on an adventure!
All participating Anglos arrived in Madrid the day before the programme began and stayed overnight in a hotel. The counsellors were there to greet us, armed with an array of ice-breaker activities that helped to establish the bonds that would strengthen and grow over the following two weeks.
The next morning we headed by bus to our respective venues, located all over Spain in rural areas including Villa Engracia, Priego, and Jerez. We Jerez-bound Anglos groggily congregated for breakfast at 5am, and some 8-hours later, arrived exhausted but happy at our new home: Campus El Sabio, Jerez de la Frontera in Andalucia, South-Western Spain.
Before long we had met our Spanish roommates and the co-ordinating team, which comprised of the Programme Director (the boss), Master of Ceremonies (the creator of fun activities), and eight counsellors. The counsellors were the responsible law-enforcers. They were the fun-loving big siblings of camp, willing to sacrifice every ounce of their dignity in the name of craic (we’re talking full-body painting, dressing up as mermaids, even head-shaving)! They were a dynamic team who embodied charisma, energy and imagination.
It’s surprising how quickly we settled into the fast-paced rhythm of Diverbo life! On Day 1, everyone received a lanyard in a certain colour. This indicated which team we were on, and our teams became our family. Every day each team would compete for points, undertaking whatever crazy challenge was thrown at us with enthusiasm. These activities ranged from building egg-parachutes to surviving a ‘zombie apocalypse’ under the cover of darkness - never a dull moment at Diverbo! These group challenges, however silly, were always great craic and a fantastic opportunity for the Spaniards to practise their English communication skills in a group situation.
Aside from the group activities, over the course of the two weeks we had around 30 different ‘one-to-ones’. These are 50-minute conversations between an Anglo and a Spaniard - you can talk about anything at all, as long as it’s through English! This activity is at the heart of the camp’s main objective: to improve our Spanish friends’ listening and communication skills through English. While it’s true that one-to-ones could sometimes be tedious, some of my favourite memories of the Diverbo experience are of those conversations. I met some incredible young people with such interesting perspectives on things like national identity, their education system, the Catalonian referendum and the Spanish monarchy. It was both rewarding and empowering to watch our amigos grow in confidence as they conversed with more and more Anglos, and with every conversation I learned something new too.
Every aspect of the day was designed to encourage bonding and communication between us. For example, at mealtimes we sat Anglo-Spaniard-Anglo-Spaniard. This was a clever way to ensure that you’d find yourself opposite a face every day! While at breakfast the atmosphere could be rather lethargic, the room was always alive and buzzing with laughter by dinnertime. At every table there were people demonstrating their awesome cutlery-balancing skills, teaching napkin origami or practising cup songs! Of course, there was also plenty of free time to enjoy the pool and Skype home too.
My experience as a Diverbo volunteer was unforgettable. The opportunity to make a difference, while soaking in another culture and meeting a diverse range of people from Wales to Spain to Canada, was absolutely priceless. The friendships I formed in summer 2014 have yet to fade, despite the distance between the volunteers and our Spanish amigos.
Having English as a first language is a huge advantage in today’s world, and I believe that our fluency and expertise is something that we can and should share with those who are learning English as a second language. While it may feel like a free holiday while you’re there, there can be no doubt about the fact that you are truly helping the Spanish teens to improve their English. Something else to consider is that most volunteer organisations require participants to raise hundreds of euro in order to go abroad. This financial factor limits many young active citizens who would love the opportunity to make a difference outside their own community. The great thing about Pueblo Ingles Teens is that the cost of room, full board and all transport from the time you arrive in Spain is covered! This means that for Anglos, the camp is free with the exception of the flights, welcome and departure packs (approx. €160).
Like the sound of Diverbo camps? Want to add ‘15 days of volunteer service at a linguistic immersion programme’ to your CV? Head over to their website now, because places are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis! Once you’re accepted, don’t forget to go to check out Diverbo's Facebook page, where you can get to know the participants who will join you at your venue. Best of luck with your application!