India’s European Experience

Posted on the 5th October 2020

India, a volunteer from New Zealand wrote to us to give us an update on her gap year experience volunteering as a Language Coach in Poland. It’s been a much different experience than planned, due to COVID-19. It included 5 months of lockdown with family in the UK, followed by travels all over Europe, before returning to her placement in Poland.

India sure has made lemonade out of her European adventure and we are very happy to share her experience with you. Thank you so much, India, for sharing your story with us. You are an inspiration!

I began my placement as a Language Coach in Poland at the end of February 2020. At the time, I had 15 classes during the week and had to plan and conduct lessons depending on the students levels of English. I had been volunteering at my school in Warsaw for 1.5 weeks when we heard the news that all Polish schools were closing for 2 weeks, initially. My mentor told me that day that she believed that schools wouldn’t open again until September which made me realise just how serious the pandemic situation was. After a few video calls with the other volunteers and my parents I had to make a decision whether to leave Poland and go home or wait it out despite the uncertain future. My stubbornness, to the dismay of my dad, made me decide to compromise and travel to England to stay with family until schools reopened. Initially I thought I would be back in Poland by May but quickly that seemed to look very unlikely and I settled into lockdown with my Nana in the United Kingdom for 5 months.

During the very long 5 months and despite not even being in my host country anymore, I still received emails and messages from Lattitude asking me how I was and what the situation was like in England. I always knew that the support base of Lattitude was there and that people were able to answer any questions or problems that I had. I kept in contact with some of the other volunteers that stayed in Poland which also helped me keep faith that soon I would see them again.

During late July, the opportunity to travel around Germany with 3 other volunteers arose and I jumped at the first chance to hear another Kiwi accent again.

I met up with the other girls in Hamburg and then we travelled together to Dresden, Munich and Frankfurt for 2 weeks. We visited Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, the Olympic Village in Munich, and even attempted to attend an outdoor cinema in Dresden even though we ended up sitting on the wrong piece of grass and missed the whole movie. We then got on a bus to Belgium to spend a week eating our way around the country. We paid a visit to Brussels, Namur, Bruges, and Leuvan making sure to try Belgian Chocolates, Waffles and Fries on our way.

Then due to closing country borders, we made an on-the-spot decision to travel to Greece rather than our initial plan of Croatia. We spent the week exploring Athens, visiting the Acropolis, and the Temple of Zeus, watched the sunset at the top of Mount Lycabettus, and saw the Panathenaic Stadium where the first Olympics were held. We then travelled to Corfu to live out our Mamma Mia fantasies. We spent the week swimming in the ocean daily, exploring the Old Town, souvenir shopping, eating gyros at every opportunity and taking boat trips out to the caves and lagoons.

We then had planned to travel onto Austria and the Czech Republic before ending up back in Poland at the start of September for the start of school. Though this plan suddenly changed causing a lot of panic and stress. One day before we were due to fly out to Salzburg, the Austrian Government changed the entry requirements for the country so we were suddenly not able to enter. A long night of tears and travel websites ended our group holiday as we all booked flights to different countries before having to say goodbye at Corfu airport a few weeks earlier than expected.

Travelling during a global pandemic has proven to be quite the experience. Each country had different rules surrounding masks and social distancing so we all had to constantly adapt. Even though the continuously changing country borders and rules caused plenty of anxiety, there was one positive of travelling during this uncertain time. There were basically no travelers and most major tourist attractions around the different countries were uncrowded and had nearly no one there. We got to see the Acropolis and do different activities with smaller groups of people due to social distancing and even got photos with nobody else in them. So maybe there was one positive thing with travelling during coronavirus times.

During the course of our travels, the other three girls I was with decided to leave after Summer to go back to New Zealand. This was a bit disheartening seeing so many of my friends leaving. This meant that there are only two other volunteers left in Poland, and I don’t know them well. This made me question whether I was making the best decision to go back to Poland, but I am so glad that I did.

I was able to return to the same school I volunteered at in February which made me feel comfortable and it was nice already knowing how the school and classes worked. The teaching part of my placement hasn’t changed but the protocols when entering the school and classrooms has. We now have to use hand sanitizer when entering every classroom and the school building. We have temperature checks when arriving to school and have to wear masks in all the hallways.

This year has been very confusing and stressful but I am glad that I decided to continue volunteering. I got to spend the most time I have ever with my family in England, and got to travel around Europe with girls that I didn’t really know during orientation. They are now some of my closest friends and if this pandemic didn’t happen, I probably wouldn’t have gotten to know them at all. Even with all the new restrictions I have been able to continue volunteering which is what I had planned to do until  the start of next year. I have had to be very adaptive and learn to just go with the flow, and knowing that Lattitude is there if I need anything is really comforting. It has really proven to be a Gap Year that I will never forget.

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