Alex was an English “Language Coach” in Poland on her Lattitude gap year.
Why volunteer overseas?
I heard about Lattitude when they came to my high school careers expo. It wasn’t until a few years later that I decided I wanted to volunteer with them and have the experience of a life time. I wanted to experience a new culture, live away from home and work in a new and exciting environment!
I volunteered in Poland because I wanted to experience a new culture while also having some of the comforts of home. Staying with host families was one of the biggest highlights of the experience as it allowed me to fully immerse myself in Polish culture.
Orientation on arrival
During orientation I met the other volunteers who would eventually become my great friends. We attended classes at the British Council in Poland’s capital city, Warsaw. In these classes we learned about strategies for teaching English as a foreign language and we even learnt a little bit of Polish! When we first arrived in Poland it was -15 degrees and snowing, but still we spent time exploring the city, eating delicious food and getting ourselves acquainted with Polish life.
A typical day on my placement in Poland would start with me getting up and having breakfast with my host family. My host siblings and I would walk to school together and then I would head to the staff room to meet the English teachers and my placement partner. Generally, I would have four to five classes a day, where I would assist the English teacher in everyday tasks.
My main role as an English Language Coach was to get the students talking as much English as possible. With the younger students we sang songs or play games, while with the older students we practiced for speaking exams and worked on grammar tasks. After school I would head back to my host family’s house and spend the night helping my host siblings with homework, going for bike rides around town or helping cook dinner. On the weekends I would meet up with other volunteers and explore the beautiful city of Warsaw!
I was lucky enough to stay with three host families while I was in Poland. All of the host families had children at the school I was volunteering at, and they ranged from five to sixteen years old. My host families were extremely welcoming, and while not everybody spoke English, they made me feel right at home. They cooked traditional Polish food and showed me how to make some of their family recipes!
At times I used Google Translate to communicate with host parents who didn’t speak English so well. My host siblings were always helpful and put their English speaking skills to the test when they acted as a translator!
Thoughts on Poland
Warsaw is similar to my home city, Melbourne, in many ways including having lots of transport, good food and lots to do! However, the major difference is the language barrier. It just meant I had plenty of opportunities to practice my Polish!
Polish people are very friendly, all the students and staff at the school made an effort to make me feel welcome. If I ever had any trouble when I was out and about there was always someone willing to help.
In my downtime I went into Warsaw, which was about 40 minutes away on the train. I would spend my time catching up with other volunteers, sightseeing, visiting museums, shopping and eating out. I also spent time with my host siblings who showed me around town.
On long weekends and holidays I travelled with other volunteers around Poland and to the surrounding countries. Cities we visited in Poland included Krakow, Gdansk and Torun. We also travelled to Vienna, Prague and Budapest outside of Poland. The transport in Europe is great, buses, trains and flights are easy and affordable for the budget traveller!
While Polish food is very different from food at home I enjoyed it. Pierogi, Polish dumplings, are amazing! Other common Polish meals included meat with cabbage and potatoes, lots of soup and yummy donuts. Of course if you head into the city you can find international cuisine too.
My favourite moment from placement was travelling with a group of students, my placement partner and the English teacher to another school for the students to compete in an English speaking competition. It was great to see the students putting their skills to the test!
I was able to see the improvement in the English speaking skills of my students. I was able to see them become more confident in their own abilities. In particular, my host siblings who I was talking English to every day.
I made lifelong friends with some other volunteers including my placement partner. Since returning home, I have been on a holiday with other volunteers here in Australia! I also made great connections with the English teachers at the school, who were the people I went to whenever I needed help.
As a result of my time volunteering I have gained many valuable life skills. I believe my confidence in my own abilities has increased. This experience has taught me that you can do anything if you put in the hard work and effort.
I have recently completed my teaching degree and hope to be working as a primary school teacher. My Lattitude placement has helped me on my path to becoming a teacher and have given me valuable experience in the field.