Lorena’s Spanish Language Coach Gap Year in Poland

Posted on the 5th January 2021

Lorena, a volunteer from Colombia, wrote to us to tell us all about her recent Lattitude experience volunteering as a Spanish Language Coach in Poland. It’s a wonderful read, so grab a warm beverage, sit back, put your feet up, relax, and enjoy her inspiring words. Thank you so much Lorena for sharing your experience with us!

When I had just finished high school, I wasn’t sure about what I wanted to do next. I knew I didn’t want to start a bachelor’s degree right away because I didn’t even have a specific study preference, so instead I took a break. During this time someone mentioned me the idea of getting involved in a volunteer program, which turned out to be the best option for me. I thought about it for a while and then decided to do it because this opportunity would help me clear my mind and allow me to expand my horizons.

I volunteered with Lattitude Global Volunteering in Poland, specifically in the suburbs of Warsaw. At first, Poland wasn’t my number one choice, but when I was told about the Spanish Language Coach placements that were offered in this country, I was convinced that Poland was the best option for me since Spanish is my mother tongue and therefore, I would be able to speak it and teach it at the same time, so it worked out perfectly!

During orientation week we were able to visit the British Council in Warsaw and attend a TEFL course. The course covered different aspects related to teaching a foreign language to the students. Overall, it was a very enriching and helpful experience as it is necessary to be informed about a job that you’re about to take on for the first time. Apart from this activity, with the other volunteers, we decided to walk around the city center and the Old Town some afternoons after we finished the course sessions. I also remember going to have dinner with all the volunteers and Beata (the Lattitude Country Manager) in a super nice restaurant. On the last day of orientation, we went ice skating which was so much fun. I had not had the opportunity to ice skate that much before and it was very cool! 🙂

I worked at the school from Mondays to Thursdays and most days I would arrive at 8 in the morning. My schedule was different every single day, but I would usually have from two to six classes (either in English or Spanish) to attend to and my duties were always different. Sometimes I had to prepare a presentation for the students, other times I had to guide them through a workbook activity. After finishing my classes almost every day around 2:50 pm, I’d spend some time with my host families and then relax a little bit. We would have dinner around 6-7 in the afternoon and I would go to sleep around 11 pm.

I stayed with 2 super awesome host families. From February to mid-April, I stayed with the Czajkowski family and their incredibly cute and kind dog, Django. They lived very close to the school, so it only took me 10 minutes to arrive there by foot! Although I wish I had bonded more with them, I am forever grateful for their generosity towards me. From mid-April to almost the end of June, I stayed with the Idziak family and their beautiful and loving cat, Karmel. They are a cool family and made me feel super welcome as soon as I arrived to their home! We did a lot of fun activities together during the weekends and their house was close to school as well, so it was perfect! At the beginning they were kind of worried about not being able to communicate properly in English but later on we understood each other perfectly! I really enjoyed my stay with them, they are so kind-hearted.

At first, I was kind of concerned about not knowing any Polish at all but when arrived and started to have contact with the locals, I noticed most of the people are always willing to help in case you can’t speak the language. I felt relieved knowing it wouldn’t be a big problem. Instead, the challenge was having to speak and communicate with others most of the time in English because I was not used to it. It’s not that I didn’t know any English at all, but the fact of speaking it on a daily basis was the tough part since Spanish is the language I normally use to communicate every day. Again, this was not a big problem but just a matter of time before I got used to it.

I’d say one major difference between Poland and my home country is the weather. I was really impressed by the change of seasons. In Colombia, being in a tropical location, there is no such thing as seasons. Being able to experience different temperature changes was interesting yet kind of shocking for me.

Based on my personal experience, I would say local people are super polite and helpful. While being at school, the teachers were always willing to help in case I was lost or needed help with something specific at school. I was told and also noticed that locals sometimes were not confident enough when it comes to speaking in English but this didn’t stop them from trying to help and guide foreigners.

I decided to travel during the placement. With some of my fellow volunteers, I visited Krakow and also well-known places in Poland and had a really good time. During Easter break, I also had the chance to travel to Barcelona by myself to visit my brother. He moved there in 2016 and we hadn’t seen each other for quite some time so it was wonderful to see him and share some fun moments together. Also, shortly after I moved in with my second host family, we went on a trip to Poznań and we had a very good time! I enjoyed walking around the Old Town and going to the local parks and museums, especially the Poznań Croissant Museum where you are able to prepare Polish style croissants and learn about the history of these special pastries.

Fortunately, I’m super open-minded when it comes to food. I think that food is one of the things that excites me the most when I’m travelling to a foreign country because I’m always looking forward to trying new dishes from different cultures. When I was in Poland, I was able to try several local foods especially at the school cafeteria. I can’t remember the exact names, but I really enjoyed soups with different vegetables in it and Pierogis. Pierogis were definitely a favorite for me because these could be prepared either to have a salty taste or a sweet one, so it was very good! I also remember being able to experience the Fat Thursday tradition in Poland and enjoying it very much, I ate a lot of doughnuts throughout the day! 🙂

I can’t pick one favorite moment. I feel like this whole experience was a blessing to me, so just the fact of being able to travel by myself to a foreign country was amazing. I’d say that meeting super nice people here and feeling welcomed since the beginning was truly the best for me.

It made me so happy when people approached me and asked for any kind help. For example, at my school there was a teacher that was trying to practice speaking Spanish. We arranged some weekly sessions to speak about ourselves. At the beginning she was a little bit shy when speaking in Spanish, but I noticed that over time, she started to gain confidence! And the fact that she placed her trust in me in order to have these conversations made me really happy. I felt that I was helping her to be more comfortable with her Spanish.

I met so many great people while living in Poland! I got along really well with all the volunteers and especially with my school partner, Megan. We shared some English lessons and we spent a lot of time together in and out of school as well.  It developed into a nice friendship, she is so kind and smart. 🙂

When I wasn’t doing any school related work, I tried to spend most of my time socializing with my host family or going with other volunteers or by myself to explore the city. I visited different museums in Warsaw and with my second host family we always tried to do something fun during the weekend. I remember that one time we went to an escape room and it was so much fun! I’ve had never been to one before and I really enjoyed it. Another different weekend we went to Żelazowa Wola, which is the village where the Polish musician Frédéric Chopin was born, and I had a super wonderful time.

I feel that this volunteering experience was very enriching and helped me grow up a lot as a person. Being away from my family for some months allowed me to take control and care of my own life but also broaden my view of the world because of the cultural exchange. This overall made me realize how important it is to be respectful towards other people’s background and cultures but also to learn from it.

I think my Lattitude experience definitely influenced my life path. Before going to Poland, I knew that once I finished the volunteering program I would go to university, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to study in my home country or abroad. I thought that volunteering in a foreign country could really help me in making a decision because of the adaptation process I had to go through and depending on how I felt I would make a choice. In the end this experience actually helped me because right now I’m attending university in Spain and I’m very happy where I am. This is one of the best yet most important decisions I’ve made in my life and I couldn’t be any more thankful. I’ll continue studying for the next 4 years at least but I hope to volunteer sometime again in the future. 🙂

Learn more about our Poland programme

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