A few weeks ago, I decided on a whim, to apply for a volunteer position in an immersion English program I learned about, called Angloville.
I never knew these types of programs existed before coming across a description of the program on an international work exchange website (Helpx). However, once I looked into the org and found out more about it, I was interested.
The thought of getting to experience a new culture, meet local professionals, stay in a nice hotel, with nice meals in exchange for simply speaking English all day every day was appealing.
So I applied!
I got placed in a program in Poland, as it was the first program with a vacancy (Angloville does programs in Hungary, Poland, and Romania).
I'd never had a strong interest in traveling to Poland, and the travel to and from the country with hotels before and after the program was going to make the week's 'free' lodging a bit expensive, so I asked if I could do two weeks in a row versus just one. They happened to have a last minute vacancy (ie someone else flaked) on a program the week after my initial one, so I opted to do both.
My first week's program began in Wroclaw (a major city in Poland- and soon to be the 2016 European Capital of Culture), and the second week's program began in Warsaw.
So, I booked my tickets into Wroclaw and out of Warsaw and committed. I had no idea what to expect!
I didn't know much about Poland's culture. Only it's war torn history. And the fact that they apparently make pretty great sausage (I've partaken in a fair share of polish sausages in my life). I didn't know anyone who had traveled to Poland for leisure. Even during my time volunteering with Angloville, it seemed that most people I met, had ended up in Poland because of Polish ancestry, or because they were travelers looking for free lodging/interesting work exchange opportunities.
However, despite my initial uncertainty at how much I'd enjoy the country, and whether or not it would be fun to be cooped up with the same people day in and day out 12-13 hours a day in the middle of nowhere, by the time I had finished the programs I was so glad I'd taken the chance to do it!
In short, after finishing my first experience as an immersion English volunteer tutor:
Two weeks of 12-16 hour days filled with speaking, eating, and drinking with Polish professionals in remote locations in Poland (we took a bus from the big cities to remote vacation locations), I can say a couple things for sure.
1) Polish people will always hold a special place in my heart. I have always been most drawn to cultures and countries that are warm, welcoming and who love to smile and laugh a lot. I found these things to be true of Polish people.
2) These programs kick ass. There's no better way to earn your keep than to mix and mingle with cool, smart, interesting and culturally different people (this includes the English volunteers who hailed from all over the world). I made some lasting friendships and a lot of memories.
In fact, I love the English immersion volunteer experience so much I'm now moving on to do 2-3 more volunteer weeks over December and January in Spain (in some lovely hotels in small towns a few hours from Madrid) with some other organizations I found thanks to some traveling friends' referrals (Vaughan Group and Diverbo).
I'm hoping my experience in Spain will lead to more valuable connections and friendships, but also potentially to a job teaching Business English or doing my freelance marketing and copywriting work for a local business.
Great things happen when you immerse yourself in a cultural exchange in another country, like an immersion English program. It's an experience of a lifetime. Not to mention a great way to strech your vacation or travelse out and get more out of them, on less money.
If someone hadn't thought of this idea first, I would have had it myself!