Ah my little German students, how very proud I am of all of them! I feel a proud smile wiped across my face when I noticed one of the Students correcting herself before I get a chance. From the shy, quiet, nervous strangers. The students blossom into English speaking, hardworking, fun... dare I say "friends". My German students like caterpillars bloom to butterflies.
I had left London, my visa was up and I was distraught. Constantly crying, I had a wealth of emotions. Most of all, I feared going back to "normal life". However, knowing I was about to embark a new adventure, teaching English, a return to Germany. This made it all much easier to leave. A real soften to the blow.
Deep in the midst of Germanies picturesque black forest I was volunteering to teach English.
"But Bec, you're a Graphic Designer?!"
Don't worry, I'm not changing careers, this is only for a week.
It was a short but amazing week, a once in a lifetime experience. A week of FREE 4-star accommodation, FREE 3-course AMAZING meals, all situated in a secluded forest, a winter dreamlike location. The catch? All I had to do was talk English all day to strangers.... Oh by golly, I was good at that! I could make a living talking to strangers.
The program is the love child of Diverbo. The same concept has been operating in Spain for years. Germany was new.
A group of "Anglos as we are called" volunteer to teach English. The Students, have only one rule, they are not allowed to speak German for the entire length of the week. It's dedication central, but it works.
When I say, we volunteer to teach English, please note, it is not regular teaching. We do not have to prepare lessons or mark homework or any of the strenuous work that comes with teaching as a job. We are there for the students to practice their English, we are there to chat to them, answer any questions, make them feel comfortable.
For me, it was a great way experience more of the German culture. It's a great way to meet new people and learn about different age groups and life interests.
I kid you not! I easily put on almost 5 kilos in a week.
I went from living on soup, eggs and frozen vegetables with soy sauce in London in my final weeks, sleeping on a couch. I was now getting a three-course meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with all you can eat salad and a drink of choice. I was sleeping in a double bed, with no one to answer to as I opened the door... I was in a kind of heaven I never thought I would have again. The contrast in lifestyle was enough to make me take full advantage of this luxury.
All I can say, is the program fed us well!
I will never forget the day that I ate black forest cake, in the black forest. (Black forest is my favorite) I was speechless. I found my eyes closing as I passionately tried to keep that taste with me forever. I didn't want anybody to talk to me or disturb that moment.
The location, could not of been more picturesque and the accommodation never more comfortable.
Deep in the black forest, in the middle of winter, I felt like I had entered a dream. I took the opportunity to walk with my students as much as possible (mostly because my jean button was starting to pop open).
Just to give you an idea of what to expect, whilst every day was different there was a general gist.
You do have to stick to the time schedule to ensure all lessons go to plan. You start the day with the huge yummy breakfast. Generally the rule is to have two "Anglos and two students" on a table, this gives an extra chance for casual conversation. It is fun to get to know more people in the group.
You then spend 40 minutes walking, talking, sitting, asking and answering questions with your student. I had some great conversations. Every session is different, as you are dealing with different people. One minute I'm walking around outside making snowmans, the next sitting with a cup of tea.
You would have 2 sessions, followed by a huge lunch, carrying on your conversations in a casual lunch environment. After lunch, spare time. You can rest in your room, enjoy the spa, pool, gym or just walk around.
Followed by more sessions normally with a difference. These different sessions would range from conference calls to group conversations. The well-designed program works to simulate real English situations in day to day environments. After these sessions, there were games or "drama", things to break the ice and get people ready to wind down and feel relaxed. These were a lot of fun and very rewarding to see the students break out of their comfort zone.
We would then have dinner to end the day. You're free to go to bed, or stay up and socialise with a few drinks. With the help of time and drinks, Slowly this giant room full of strangers became my new friends.
I never thought that I would ever get sick of talking, but if I'm honest, by the 3rd day, I was tired. It is exhausting, more so for the students than us. Yet at the same time, we did subconsciously have to be thinking about conversation all the time. The students needed to be constantly switched on and learning. Their brains were constantly being challenged, but so was mine.
In saying this, it was all worth it and was extremely rewarding. By the 3rd day, you start to notice the students improving. You are getting to know them more, know them as funny, caring people. I can't help but have a vast amount of admiration for these students. Not only are they inspiring but so interesting.
Growing in language and confidence, we had them dancing, singing and presenting to a group in English. It was very impressive.
Speaking with one lady who was a journalist in Berlin when the wall was taken down. The day before I'm walking along with a lady who was one of the first people to enter china as it opened up to tourism. Another student would teach me photography in our sessions. The experiences I was learning from the students and the other teachers is one that money can't buy.
By the end of the week, the students were telling me how they were dreaming in English. (Talk about progress).
As the program director screams an Aussie chant, I know his talking about me. I get up half ready to ball and the personal jokes he starts saying leads me to crack and I ball my eyes out.
It was time to say goodbye.
We were given certificates and a chance to say a goodbye speech in front of everyone. I cried! I cried, so embarrassingly as I went up to get my certificate.
Maybe it was too overwhelming, with all the goodbyes I had to do in London. This was my last adventure before returning home and that was hard to swallow. Maybe it was knowing that I really enjoyed the company of everyone on the program. I was going to miss Mr Gummibaren, and ze German and all the other students I made nick names and friends with. I was going to miss the Anglos that I became so close with.
I will never forget my favorite student, the connection we made. She sat on the bus with me on the way to the black forest. I saw her saying goodbye to her family. We didn't say hardly a word to each other. The more English we learned, the more she became the funniest and wittiest in the group. She started to take off a key ring sheep from her bag as we were saying goodbye. "It's not the cleanest" she said " but I want you to have this and take it back to Australia" I was so touched as she gave me, a stranger, me, someone she had known for a week, a personal present. I burst into tears.
When you start the program with no idea what to expect, you meet the students and see nervous strangers quietly waiting and anticipating what might happen. When you leave the program you have become best friends within a week. You have seen them blossom, blooming into the people they are, you see there confidence, discover there personally. It is very rewarding and memorable.
The great thing about this program is that there is no cost involved, no crazy qualifications or experience needed and all that is required is that you love to talk! They are looking for native English speakers that are interesting and have enough to talk about as well as a good amount of life experience with interesting stories. They look for a variety of people and accents to make it more life-like for the students. More information about volunteering for the program can be found here, and with courses in Germany and Spain I recommend having a look.
Take a look at the calendar of dates and different venues (Note you will have to make your own way to the country... e.g I had to make my own way to Munich, at my own costs). The application form asks simple questions about your life experiences and so on... This will be your best bet to show yourself up, make sure to make a decent effort on it.