Name of Volunteer Speaker
Name of town/city where school is located
Vic, Catalunya, Spain.
Experience in school including tasks, classes, relationship with students/teachers
My experience in the school so far has been great! I have developed a friendly relationship with a few of the teachers, especially the ones that like to practice speaking English. I had the impression before arriving that I would be running my own smaller groups, while also assisting in the classrooms with the English teachers. I was a little disappointed when I realized I would only be involved in working with small groups doing conversation lessons, and not actually assisting in the English classes with the teachers. However I have started to inquire about the possibility of sitting in on some classes when I have free periods so I can gain more experience, and see how they approach teaching grammar and lessons. My relationship with the students vary, some are very talkative and have much more English than others and these have been the more successful groups, however I am learning how to adapt my conversation and lessons to accommodate the different levels of English. I have also tried to foster an environment where students feel comfortable to make mistakes, laugh and/or confide in me about their lives. I point out mistakes that I as a native English speaker have made so they know they are not alone, and that English is complicated. I try to make my lessons interesting and fun for the students, and feel like I have been able to get some of the more shyer students to come out of their shells.
Experience living with your Host Family. Have they made you feel welcome, relationship, activities, etc…
I very much love the host family I have been placed with. Although there is definitely a language barrier that has prevented some deeper bonding conversations, Gemma and I have found ways to communicate beyond that, sometimes using a translator app. I feel like I was placed appropriately, as she works evenings during the week, and I am naturally a very independent person, so this gives me some time and space to be on my own when they are away from the house. When they are home, I try to spend time with them or go with them when they are out. We have gone out for dinner a couple times, the Saturday Market, a hockey game,
of one of her friend’s son, and Gemma has introduced me to a few of her friends who have also been very friendly and willing to help me with anything I need. We have plans to visit her friend in another town and go for a hike, and hopefully also a day in Barcelona together. Gemma is a single parent, and we have discussed how money and time sometimes prevents us from planning bigger activities. Growing up myself with a single mother I very much understand this. I check with her on the weekends if she has anything she would like for us all to do together before I plan anything independently. When I do go on excursions with Gemma and Nit, Gemma is very helpful with suggestions on where to go and what to see. We have also started watching a TV show together, and I enjoy spending that time with her as we are interested in a lot of the same types of shows. She is a very good cook, and we have planned to allow me to cook for them some evenings as well. Nit is more reluctant to speak English with me, but I believe this is partly due to her age, being a pre-teen and just not being as interested in school. She will always give me a hug when she sees me though, and I often will try to joke around with her and ask her questions about her life, as I know it is important for Gemma that she has this opportunity to improve her English. I was able to help her this past week in studying for an English exam, and I believe our relationship will continue to improve. They are a very laid-back family, and we have grown very comfortable with each other. I have also become very attached to their dog Poppy. She has definitely provided some comfort when I am home alone, and I have informed Gemma that I am willing to help her out with taking Poppy with walks if she ever needs.
Your general experience whilst on the program from prior expectations to your current experience
My experiences so far has pretty well matched my expectations, the only exception being that I had hoped to gain experience on how to teach a full lesson and grammar. It has been interesting figuring out the timetables, as sometimes the class start times are actually 5 minutes later than what my schedule indicates, but I believe I have got it figured out. Sometimes some of my groups do not show up to my lessons, which is unfortunate, but I believe this has started to improve. Many teachers have offered to help if I ever need have questions or need advice, and they are all very approachable.
Changes/Improvements in both personal and professional development
I feel like I have grown a lot since the start of the program. I feel more confident in leading my group conversations, and I have developed a lot of ideas on activities and games that will get the students talking, and that I am excited to try out. I am learning how to adapt my lessons to fit the different levels of English that the various groups have and have discovered certain topics that do or do not get students excited to speak in English. Personally, I have been making many new friends, including the other Voluntary Speaker in school here (Makayla), connections I have built through Gemma, and other people I have met by crossing paths. I have been learning how to put myself more out there with the other teachers to build some connections. I go for coffee every day with the other teachers, and I have been learning some Catalan phrases or words so that I am better able to communicate with people in the city. I have also been eating healthier, and reading more on my personal time, not needing to spend as much time watching TV or movies on my own. I would like to improve on my sleeping habits, as I am having difficulties getting up early, and have been sleeping a lot more. I have brainstormed some ideas to change this.
Advice for the any new/future Voluntary Speakers placed in your town/city (best places to visit, things to do, activities with host family, favorite restaurant, bar, etc.…)
I suggest walking around the city and exploring different shops or different parts will help with becoming comfortable with your surroundings. The Norton is an international bar with many exchange students who speak English. The coffee shops near the school are very friendly and will recognize you as a Voluntary Speaker from the school if you join the teachers for coffee. It is important to be open to anything the host families suggest as activities, even simple outings on the weekends, such as to the market in the Placa Major, or running errands! For me it has also been helpful to connect with the other voluntary speaker working in the school with me. Do not expect stores or shops to be open on Sundays!
Advice for new/future Voluntary Speakers placed in your school?
My best advice is to not be afraid to ask questions. The teachers are all there to help, and although many have trouble speaking in English, a lot of them will still understand what you are saying. Speak to them for suggestions on what to see and visit, they are more than willing to give you ideas, and are interested in your experience living here. The English teachers are also more than willing to help you with your classes if needed. It is also important to remain flexible, as it can take some getting used to the schedule and times that you have classes. Neus is a wonderful resource and will often answer almost instantly through WhatsApp. It is important to make sure the students feel comfortable around you. Try to make lessons fun, and share things about yourself with the students. This will make them comfortable confiding in you and sharing things about their lives, whether that is opinions on their home life, or their experience in school. Be prepared to modify the level of English you expect from the various groups. Although some may be in the same level, there are a number of students who also attend English academies, and will be able to have more complex conversations, while some others still have difficulty understanding what you are asking, so will only provide very simple answers. If one group is very talkative, allow them to direct the flow of the conversation, as this will keep them talking and give you new things to speak about. Bring white board markers with you or find them here. If you are with the secondary students, you will have a room with a white board, this will help you with providing spelling for words, or running different activities and games. The internet is a great resource for conversation-based activities as well. Be prepared with many different types of games or activities, as some may not work well with the different groups, and you may need more to fill the time. Many students participate in extracurricular activities, or plan to attend post-secondary schooling, and this will provide you with topics they are interested in talking about. Be aware of your own language tendencies, as you may have to clarify why you say certain phrases or idioms. (ex: how come? = why?, “you guys”, these are just some of the one I have realized I commonly use).
Advice for new/future Voluntary Speakers in relation to living with your host family or Spanish families in general
The host family is excited to have you there! Try to spend as much time as with them as you can, and check with them on the weekends for any plans or activities they may have in mind before making independent plans. Find out the reason for them also volunteering to host you. Often the parent’s goal is to have their children improve their English, as this is very important to them. Spanish families are also very relaxed and laid back. They are never in a rush. Often, they are very curious about your own culture, and if they are hosting you they have probably done a lot of traveling themselves. Be up front with them about any problems or needs, they will not be offended and will likely go out of their way to help you. Be open minded to their needs, and check with them on their experience having you there. When I am in my room working on something, I will leave my door open, so they know they are welcome to come speak to me at any time. Be sure to be helpful with cleaning up after dinner, or any other little things like taking the garbage out. They will appreciate the help!
Share some of the best moments in your school, host family and in general whilst participating on the program
The best moments for me have been when a student who is not very talkative switches and becomes very engaged in a topic or conversation. It is nice to see that I have made them comfortable enough to be honest about how they feel, and not be worried about how I will take their response or making mistakes. I also have enjoyed when students are interested in myself or in Canada and are curious enough to ask me questions about my life. I am from a country with a lot of snow, and I have particularly enjoyed showing them pictures of what is like back home, or explaining how cold it can get, and see the shock they experience at this difference. Some of the things I have enjoyed the most about my host family are simple pleasures, like conversation at dinner time, or watching a TV show together where they try to improve their English. I have also become very attached to their dog, Poppy. She has provided a comfort as well as a topic for conversation and connection with the family. I am also excited to cook some of my own favorite meals for my host family, and love that they are interested in learning about Canada, me and my family. My host mom has also provided me with many other people to connect with in her friends group, and I feel very accepted by them.
During the program I have really enjoyed going for coffee with the other teachers. Sometimes I sit and listen to them speak in Catalan, and it is interesting to watch their interactions with each other. Other times there are groups who really enjoy practicing their English, and they share things about their lives with me. I have very much enjoyed connecting with the other voluntary speaker. We speak a lot about the differences between our own countries, and comment on the difference we see here in Spain and Catalunya. We have visited Barcelona together and had a very fun time!
Any regrets joining? Would you recommend the program to others? and what would you say to someone thinking about teaching English abroad for the first time and thinking about joining this program?
I have no regrets about joining! I still feel like this was the perfect first step for me into the world of teaching English. I would highly recommend this program for anyone who is just starting out like I am, it is a great way to introduce yourself to what teaching English would be like, and to find out your own strengths and weaknesses. Spanish culture is typically very laid back, and you are given a lot of time and opportunity to find and try new things and see how well they work in a classroom or with different groups. It has provided me the opportunity to learn how to adapt an activity to the different levels of English. I have also helped the daughter in my host family study for an English exam, and this has shown me how difficult it can be to teach grammar, and where I need to focus on in improving my skills as a teacher. The program will definitely improve your confidence in teaching if you are nervous about doing so or worried about your lack of experience, while being in a safe environment. You are given a lot of support through Educados International, the school and your host family. Do not be afraid to seek out their help and ask for advice!