Bryn went to teach English in the Ukraine last summer and became fascinated by Eastern Europe. Read about his Ukranian adventure!
Bryn introduces himself:
“I had some free time this summer and I wanted to travel but didn’t want to be just on holiday. I wanted to do something productive so I thought that voluntary work might be quite rewarding. I found that UNA Exchange has short-term projects and I decided to become a volunteer English teacher university Summer School in Ukraine. The Summer School was in western Ukraine in a small town called Bryukhovychi in a rural area near Lviv.
Busy schedule in Ukraine
During the project we were divided into classes; there would be two native English speakers per class and they taught the students for three weeks with an exam at the end. I was very lucky to have an American university professor as my co-teacher in my group. During the morning we were teaching academic writing and then in the afternoon we taught our elective subject. In the first week I taught British politics and in the other two weeks I taught beginner’s Spanish. We organized also lot of group activities with students: I remember how we played capture the flag or Singing songs around a bonfire- me and the male teachers did a beautiful rendition of Hero by Enrique Iglesias! On the 4th July I celebrated Independence Day with the American volunteers, which as a Brit, was certainly a memorable experience!
At first I had a lot of reservations because most of the students were older than me; I thought that maybe they would not see me as credible or take me seriously, but the degree to which they listened and paid attention to me really shocked me. Our schedule was very very busy. I had to prepare the day’s lessons the day before and lot of the times we were up late at night working and planning the lessons for next day and we had to wake early to start the day. It was stressful at times but it was really good to see how the student’s English improved. During evenings we had personal tutoring when students could speak to teachers on one-to one basis, which helped their English a lot. They were speaking about thirty minutes and I really enjoyed that chats to get to know the students better.
Teaching is helping other people to grow
During the whole project they were not allowed to speak Ukrainian and they had to speak English all the time. I think there was lot of stress for them and I was very impressed how positive and enthusiastic they were able to stay during that time. I heard from lot of students that they had bad experience with negative feedback from teachers to make any mistakes while talking English and they have been really appreciative of my patience. I encouraged them to make mistakes, because that’s the only way to learn. I didn’t leave students behind if they struggled or didn’t understand something. I was very careful to make sure that everyone understood before continuing.
In general I would say that the teaching style of myself and my volunteer colleagues was much more informal and relaxed than is common in Ukraine; I don’t think the students had a lack of motivation; I just think the situation in Ukraine is a lot of teachers grew up in Soviet union and they still have quite strict mentality. The environment in school was very different from schools in UK. I hope that Ukrainian students learned to believe in themselves; in America and Britain we have a belief that almost anything can be achieved with enough effort and I don’t think the students ever had this attitude. I hope that now they have enough self-belief to work towards improving their future; Ukraine has a lot of problems, and they will not be solved if no one takes action because they think they don’t matter.
Volunteering on this project has definitely made me consider teaching as an opportunity to travel, because before volunteering I thought it was only possible to travel if you had a lot of money. I realized that teaching is helping other people to grow, and education is the most precious gift you can give anyone; it empowers people.
I gained a better understanding of the world
I feel like I gained the better understanding of the world. Ukraine was not anything like I thought it would be. I had my own preconceptions about it and it just turn out really different. I think it just taught me not to make assumptions until you go somewhere and get to know the people better. I’ve started to be fascinated by Eastern Europe, it’s certainly a region that not many people in the UK know much about and I’m hoping to volunteer in Russia next.
I feel it has broadened my worldview, it’s difficult to describe. When many people think of travelling to another country they just think of visiting like a holiday, but their experience of the country is nothing like what a volunteer experiences; a tourist can only interact with a culture from a distance, without truly getting to know people. Volunteering gives you the opportunity to get to know a country, its people, its culture and help the people at the same time.
I would tell anyone, who thinks about trying volunteering abroad: Go for it! It will be the best experience of your life. It will change you, but in a good way. At the beginning of the project it might be really hard for you, but if you give it a few days you’ll start to enjoy it. It’s normal to want to go home haha, but after a few days you won’t want to leave!
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