Name of Volunteer Speaker
Name of town/city where school is located
Experience in school including tasks, classes, relationship with students/teachers
My experience so far has been excellent. The school that I have been placed in has 2 separate buildings located a 5 minute walk from each other – one for primary students (5-12 years old) and one for secondary students (12-16). For the first 2 weeks I worked solely in the secondary school, while another Voluntary Speaker worked in the primary school, but an arrangement was put in place this past week for us to split our time between both schools. Since I came into this program with no prior experience teaching children/being in a classroom, I feel like getting a chance to work with a broad range of students is very beneficial.
In the secondary school I was made to feel very welcome straight away. I was shown around the school, introduced to all the teachers, given my timetable, etc., and then I began with my classes. The first time I was in each class, I was introduced by the teacher and then the students introduced themselves to me one by one and asked me a question that they had prepared before I arrived. In general, the standard of English is quite high here, so I felt like I was easily understood by most students (as long as I spoke slowly). I was a bit nervous about how the students would react to me initially, but I feel like I developed a good rapport with them relatively quickly.
After my introductory classes, my tasks in the classroom have mainly been to correct and demonstrate proper pronunciation, to give presentations about me and where I’m from, to give feedback on students’ presentations, and to take groups of 3-4 students outside of the classroom so that they can practice speaking with me. The speaking practice sessions are great, not just for the students to develop their speaking skills, but also for me to get to know them better and to develop more rapport with them.
I have just been in the primary school for 2 days so far but my experience there has also been great. The fact that I was here for 2 weeks before I went to the primary school meant that I had learnt a few words and phrases in Catalan, and so when the students heard me speak in their language they were really impressed and it felt like they were on my side straight away. In my primary school classes I gave my introduction presentation and I helped them with their workbook exercises.
All of the teachers have been really lovely and welcoming. When I said that I wanted to learn Catalan, one of them quickly offered to have a weekly class with me for one hour. Another teacher runs an after school academy and asked me to teach English lessons there. When another one of the teachers discovered I played music she organised a group of teachers to go to a concert and asked me to go too. The teachers sometimes go for dinner and drinks one evening during the week and they invited me to go along with them.
However, to a certain extent, there is a bit of a language barrier between some of the teachers and me. In each school there are 5-7 teachers that speak English very well and they are all very good at making sure to include me in conversations. The rest of the teachers (~10 in the secondary school) have some English but find it difficult to have a conversation. Naturally, the majority of the conversations in the staff room happen in Catalan, and even though I am picking up some Catalan as I go along, this can feel a little isolating at times.
Experience living with your Host Family. Have they made you feel welcome, relationship, activities, etc…
I have been extremely fortunate with my host family. I couldn’t have asked for a better situation. From the first moment they have made me feel right at home. In the family there is a father, a mother, one boy (13) and one girl (11). The father has very good English, the mother has limited English and the kids have good English for their age. In the 3 weeks that I have been here, I feel like their English and their confidence to speak it has improved.
During the week, we have dinner together where we talk in English about the day’s events and upcoming plans. At first I felt like I should be spending more time with the family than just this, but they have made it clear to me that I am free to spend my time in my living area if I wish, as the kids are busy with sport and after school lessons so there is no need for me to hang around with them all the time. The house itself is beautiful with spectacular views. My living quarters are in the basement which has its own fridge, dining/work area, entertainment room and swimming pool. I am very comfortable here.
The kids do a lot of extra curricular activities and so the activities I do with the family tend to work around those. The boy normally has a football match and a running race at the weekend. For example, the first weekend I was here he had a race near Barcelona and so I went to that with the family and we went to Barcelona to see some sights and to have lunch afterwards. Every Thursday he has a personal training session and I am happy to be asked to attend that with him each week.
Other activities we have done include going to visit a famous Sanctuary here high up in the mountain, as well as going to see a landmark medieval bridge in the area. A relative of the family played a concert in a nearby town the second weekend I was here so they brought me to that and I was even invited up on stage to play a few songs. There is a Michelin star restaurant nearby and we went there last week for lunch. This weekend we will visit Andorra. Next week we will go to see the Barcelona vs Manchester United match in Camp Nou. The family just discovered since I arrived that there is a guitar factory near here which makes guitars by hand, and since I play the guitar they asked me if I would like to visit it, so we will also go there next week.
The family has made it clear that if I need anything at all, all I have to do is ask. When they go grocery shopping they tell me to either write a list of whatever I want, or to go with them to pick out my own groceries. I asked them if they had a kettle for me to boil water for tea. They didn’t, so I was happy to boil water in a saucepan, but then the next day they had bought a kettle for me, even though I didn’t ask for it.
Your general experience whilst on the program from prior expectations to your current experience
As I had never done anything like this before, I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect from the experience. However, the team at Educados International did a great job of informing myself and other Volunteer Speakers in the weeks and months before we arrived so that we were prepared when we got here. Because this role is a Teaching/Language Assistant, I saw it as a fantastic opportunity to get experience in the classroom and to learn from teachers here while not having to deal with the pressure and stress of figuring out how to actually teach all by myself from day one.
For me, coming from Ireland, I knew that being in a European country would mean that I wouldn’t feel as far away from home as I would if I went to Asia or Latin America, for example. Knowing that my accommodation, meals, transport, etc. would all be taken care of also meant that I had less to worry about, and that I could get settled in here quickly and without hassle.
Since I’ve arrived my experience has been nothing but positive. I get on well with the host family, the teachers, and the students. There has almost always been some type of activity planned for me, and if there aren’t any activities planned, I use the time to prepare bits and pieces for the classroom. I have had the chance to socialise with the teachers and the other volunteer speaker in my town, however, I knew coming into this program that it wouldn’t be the type of experience where I go out to bars and clubs every chance I get, and that’s perfectly fine with me.
Changes/Improvements in both personal and professional development
Since this is my first time to be in a classroom outside of being a student, that is obviously where I’ve experienced the most development. I was a little bit nervous to stand in front of a full classroom of students when I began but now, I am a lot more comfortable with it.
I took a TEFL course before I applied for the program. There was a section on intonation/tone of voice while teaching. That’s something where learning the theory and putting it into practice are two very different things, but having been conscious of it from the start, that’s something in which I’ve definitely noticed an improvement.
Personally, I feel like I’m definitely achieving some level of growth from speaking to and getting to know people from a different country and a different culture. Learning Catalan is also contributing to that.
Advice for 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.…)
The first piece of advice for Speakers coming to Berga is to bear in mind the weather here. While it is sunny far more often than not, it is in the north of the country and it is 700m above sea level, meaning it can get quite cold here, so pack accordingly.
Being at altitude means there are some spectacular views from the mountains here, though. I would definitely recommend visiting the Santuari de Queralt. If you don’t feel like walking up a steep mountain, there is a Gothic Era bridge called Puente de Pedret which is just outside the town.
I’ve only been to a handful of bars and restaurants so far. Els Roures and Estany Clar are both great options just outside the town (the latter of which has a Michelin Star). Frankfurt is a bar/restaurant with great food and a good atmosphere for going out with friends as opposed to family. Dickens on Paseig de la Pau is a good bar.
Going to see a handball match in Pavello D’esports de Berga is very exciting and great entertainment.
While people here understand Spanish, everyone prefers to speak Catalan, so I would highly recommend learning at least a few phrases before you get here.
Advice for new/future Voluntary Speakers placed in your school?
Again, learning some basic phrases in Catalan is a very useful way to develop rapport quickly with the students and the teachers. Teachers are impressed that you make the effort to learn Catalan and the students light up when they hear you speak it.
Having presentations prepared for the first few weeks was very beneficial to me. Students are interested in learning about the differences and similarities between their culture and yours. Presentations I have done have been about myself, Ireland in general (weather, food, culture, traditions, etc), sport in Ireland and music in Ireland.
Other than that, the most important thing is to try to get along with everyone and say yes to any opportunities that are presented to you. For example, when the teacher who runs an after school academy asked me to teach a class there, I could have thought of reasons not to do it since I didn’t have experience teaching very young learners, but I said yes to the opportunity and I was glad to be pushed outside of my comfort zone, as this where the best experience and the most growth happens.
Advice for new/future Voluntary Speakers in relation to living with your host family or Spanish families in general
Communication is the most important thing with the host family. Make sure that you have a conversation with them early on to go over house rules, what they expect from you and what they hope to achieve by the time your stay with them comes to an end.
As I said above, say yes to the opportunities they give you and the activities they plan for you. You will only be with them for a limited amount of time and both their experience and yours will be enhanced by spending time together and doing activities.
Share some of the best moments in your school, host family and in general whilst participating on the program
One of the best moments in school was when I was asked to teach Gaelic (Irish) Football to a PE class. The students really enjoyed it and it was great for me to be able to show them the sport from my country. Beyond that, the best moments in school happen when students approach me at the end of class or outside class to ask me questions or show an interest in something I’ve talked about with them.
With my host family, the best moment so far was when they took me to a concert that their relative was playing, and then I was asked on stage to play some songs.
Another great moment was attending my first handball match. I was really impressed with how exciting the match was and with the atmosphere in the pavilion.
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 absolutely no regrets at all about joining the program, and would recommend it without hesitation to anyone else thinking about joining. If it’s your first time to teach abroad then this is such a fantastic opportunity to get experience in the classroom, and to learn from other teachers without the pressure and stress of doing it all on your own and figuring it out by yourself. You’ll be in a beautiful part of the world, you won’t have to worry about accommodation, meals or transport, and you’ll be making memories and connections with people that will last a lifetime.