Kayla Savage, LE Brazil Alumna, on returning to South America with the Peace Corps

What led you to apply to become an LE volunteer for the summer of 2018?

I have an interest in international development and the Western Hemisphere, and I knew that for my career I needed field experience. I saw flyers around campus for LE, and I decided to meet with the George Washington University Campus Director to learn more. She connected me with my now friend and mentor, Juliette Erath, who was the country director of the Brazil program and encouraged me to apply!

Why did you choose Brazil?

I chose Brazil because I was intrigued by its politics and culture and wanted to learn more Portuguese! I was originally going to apply to Panama to volunteer, but my Spanish at the time wasn't on par with the requirement. I'm so glad I went to Brazil because I learned a new language and was able to understand a country that is crucial to international affairs in the region.

What was your experience like while you were there?

My experience in Brazil was life changing! I was welcomed into my community with open arms, and I became extremely close with my host mom. Navigating intercultural communication was a huge part of my experience, and the more I learned about and listened to my community, the more I was able to become a more effective volunteer.

What challenges did you face, both expected and unexpected, in your role as an English teacher and/or as member in a foreign community?

Being an English teacher was a wonderful adventure of constantly adapting to the skill level and learning environment I found myself teaching in. I loved the challenge of coming to class every day and improvising even if I had the most perfectly planned out lesson, and having fun with my students.

You were recently offered a position as a Secondary Education English Teacher Trainer in the Peace Corps. Can you tell us what this position entails?

I will serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Colombia in the education sector. Peace Corps Colombia volunteers live with host families in semi-rural communities during service. I was hired for the 27-month position as a Secondary Education English Teacher Trainer, so I will work with Colombian teaching counterparts in public schools to enrich their English teaching curriculum.

How did your experience as a LE volunteer teacher in Brazil help prepare or inform you for this Peace Corps role as an English Teacher Trainer?

My experience as an LE volunteer gave me the skills and qualifications needed to apply for this position, and it helped me figure out that I wanted to work in Latin America for a longer period of time to have a more sustainable impact on my community.

Did you already have an interest in international volunteerism or programs prior to volunteering for LE?

Yes, I did have an interest, but I was always weary of volunteerism programs because of the "voluntourism" trap that so many programs fall into. LE and the Peace Corps are great because they are longer term, require cultural awareness and qualifications, and request zero payment from volunteers. In the case of the Peace Corps, the US government pays volunteers a monthly stipend, as well as covers all healthcare during service. Upon return from service, Peace Corps offers fellowships to pay for graduate school, and they give you a sum of money for resettlement back into the United States.

What would you tell young adults about LE, including those who perhaps don't currently have a great interest in international volunteerism or programs?

If you like the challenge of getting out of your comfort zone and have an affinity for empowering others in a classroom setting, LE is for you! If you just want to go on a vacation, LE may not be for you. LE is a fun and amazing experience, but your presence in the community is not just as a foreigner or tourist, you are a volunteer who is helping meet the English learning needs of your area, and that needs to be your first priority.

Lindsey Grutchfield, LE Romania Alumna, on becoming an English Education Teacher for the Peace Corps

What led you to apply to become a Learning Enterprises (LE) volunteer for the summer of 2018?

I had a friend who had done LE Poland the year before, and she encouraged me to apply, knowing my interests and passions. She felt like it would be a good fit for me, and it was!

Why did you choose Romania?

I had traveled to Romania once before as a tourist and fell in love with the culture, history, and people there. I especially love the art and architecture in Romania and the beautiful mountains and forests of Transylvania, so it was a natural choice for me.

What was your experience like while you were there?

My experience in Romania was really incredible. I divided my time between two small towns on the outskirts of Oradea in the far west of the country. I also got the opportunity to spend time with the Hungarian minority community in Romania, which was a really interesting and unique experience and one that I never expected to feel as passionately about as I did. The communities in which I was placed were incredibly welcoming and so generous, and I feel tremendously lucky that they opened up their lives and welcomed me into them. Although teaching was challenging and tiring, I always felt compelled to put 100% effort into it because of how supportive and encouraging the community members around me were. I even made some lasting friendships with some great people with whom I still keep in touch.

What challenges did you face, both expected and unexpected, in your role as an English teacher and/or as member in a foreign community?

I really wish I had had access to more and better training beforehand, but fortunately, members of my host community were very helpful in getting me up to speed. Additionally, teaching was definitely a little exhausting and overwhelming at times just in terms of the mental effort required. That said, as previously mentioned, I had a wonderful support system in my community, and my students and their kindness and eagerness to learn made it all worth it. I also felt challenged to push myself further because of my wonderful students –to give them the best that I possibly could.

You were recently offered a position as an English Education Teacher for the Peace Corps. Can you tell us what this position entails?

Beginning in June, I will be working in the English Education sector of the Peace Corps in Moldova. I'm very excited, especially since I will once again be teaching English as well as working with English teachers in the community, in a country with many cultural and linguistic similarities to Romania.

How did your experience as a Learning Enterprises volunteer teacher in Romania help prepare or inform you for role as an English Education Teacher?

My experience as an LE volunteer teacher in Romania sparked in me a desire to teach and a desire to integrate into my host community and build relationships there as much as possible. Both of these desires were a large part of why I applied to serve in the Peace Corps in the first place, and I hope to take the many lessons and skills that LE taught me and develop them further in the Peace Corps for a longer term.

I also feel that LE taught me that I was capable of showing up at a train station by myself with just the name of someone to meet, meeting that person, and settling into the community to teach. The knowledge that I'm capable of these things is integral to my belief that I can be a Peace Corps Volunteer and strive to excel in that role.

Did you already have an interest in international volunteerism or programs prior to volunteering for Learning Enterprises?

I had an interest in international work and in volunteerism prior to volunteering for LE, but beyond tutoring and spending some time at cultural-exchange discussion groups, I hadn't volunteered internationally before. Part of this stemmed from a wariness of “voluntourism” and the desire to make sure that I was serving the community that I was volunteering in rather than the other way around. LE was sort of the first program that I encountered where I felt comfortable volunteering and where I felt that I could volunteer without exploiting my host community for my own gain.

What would you tell young adults about Learning Enterprises, including those who perhaps don't currently have a great interest in international volunteerism or programs?

On one hand, you really should have an interest in international volunteerism before volunteering abroad in any way; volunteering can be very mentally challenging at times, and if you don't really believe in what you're doing, you won't be able to serve your host community the way they deserve, especially given the effort that they put into supporting you.

On the other hand, I didn't know that I had a great interest in international volunteerism for a very long time, so it's always worth looking into LE and the incredible work that they do. As a whole, LE was a tremendous, beautiful, exhausting, and empowering experience, and one that I am profoundly grateful for, so I really would encourage any young adult to apply as long as they are willing to be passionate and dedicated.

Katie Flanagan, LE Thailand Alumna, on returning to Thailand with a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship

What led you to apply to become a Learning Enterprises (LE) volunteer for the summer of 2018?

As an International Affairs major, I was eager for an opportunity to learn about a new society through on the ground immersion. I had also been a coach and tutor since middle school. So, when the George Washington University Campus Director talked to me about LE it seemed like the perfect opportunity to engage in cross-cultural exchange while using my teaching skills to serve others.

Why did you choose Thailand?

I wanted to challenge myself by going somewhere that I was unfamiliar with. I had never traveled to or taken classes about Asia, let alone Thailand. So, I thought Thailand would provide the perfect opportunity for me to learn and grow.

What was your experience like while you were there?

I felt so lucky to be there every day. I absolutely fell in love with the country. I lived in an 11-person multi-generation household in a rural town of just over 200 families. My host family was just that: family. We would make dinner together, watch reality game shows, and travel around central Thailand on the weekends. For every cultural difference I experienced in Thailand, I would find seven more shared interests to laugh and smile about. My students were also the most kind, talented, hard-working, and funny individuals I have ever met. They ranged from kindergarten to 9th grade –so I was able to sing Baby Shark with the youngsters, but also facilitate group discussions on movies and sports with the older students. To this day, I still text my students, fellow teachers, and host family weekly (at least).

What challenges did you face, both expected and unexpected, in your role as an English teacher and/or as member in a foreign community?

I had expected the language barrier, cultural differences, and living conditions to challenge me. But I hadn’t expected that I would end up enjoying these challenges so much. Communicating without words meant that I got to act, dance, and laugh all the time. The cultural differences challenged me to reevaluate my own values. I had incredible conversations about marriage, food, religion, time management, and politics with my family members who spoke English. By the end of the trip, I had even developed an emotional bond with the lizard (Fred) and cockroach (Wallace) who lived in my bathroom.

The only challenge that really caught me off guard was how draining it is to teach every day. You always have to be emitting positive energy while simultaneously altering your lesson in real time to maximize student comprehension, especially when you’re teaching in a language your students don’t have command of. I had to learn how to assess my own energy levels on the spot, and I had to develop new routines for decompressing to ensure I was always the best version of myself in class.

You were recently offered a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Thailand. Can you tell us what this fellowship entails?

This fellowship means I will be returning to Thailand for a full year as an English teacher and cultural ambassador for the United States.

How did your experience as a Learning Enterprises volunteer teacher in Thailand help prepare or inform you for this English Teaching Assistantship?

LE prepared me perfectly for this fellowship. I feel confident in my ability to teach English, make cross-cultural connections, and adapt to new experiences because I know I’ve already done all those things in Thailand before!

Did you already have an interest in international volunteerism or programs prior to volunteering for Learning Enterprises?

Yes! I was an International Affairs major, so I was always interested in opportunities that would allow me to live and work overseas. LE really stood out to me because it was student run, affordable, and seemed to have really ethical and sustainable connections with its host countries.

What would you tell young adults about Learning Enterprises, including those who perhaps don't currently have a great interest in international volunteerism or programs?

LE was one of the most influential experiences in my life thus far. You meet the most incredible people! Every day I felt so confident and fulfilled by how I spent my time and energy. If you are adaptable, enjoy working with children, and want an experience that will completely alter your life view, you should volunteer with LE!

A Reflection of a Summer Abroad

Written by volunteer, Danielle Padilla

I wish I had the journal I kept of this summer in front of me, but it’s probably best I don’t. I want this to be a pure reflection of my summer as a student volunteer, not a report of what I thought I felt then. This is a reflection piece about my summer abroad and I want this to be about the now as well. Who am I now because of it? What was the point of it all? Was it worth it? If I knew what was going to happen this summer beforehand would I have still done it? The answer is nem, tu dom. Writing that phrase has made me smile because it is one of the only phrases I remember in Hungarian and means “I don’t know”. That has kind of been the theme of this whole summer to be honest. I didn’t know a lot before I left and – even though I learned A LOT – I feel like I still know nothing as well. So, since I suffer from the Jon Snow paradox, again I say nem tu dom.

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Poland 2015, A LE Summer

Written by volunteer, Michelle Peters

On one of our walks home from the days lessons, my host-mom took this photo of me, my host sisters, and my host cousins. Since the start, I had been enchanted with my little Polish host-sisters, and life at my host-family’s house only got better when their cousins and aunt arrived from Germany. My Polish-born/German-raised host cousins started attending my English lessons as soon as they arrived, and they quickly joined the ranks with my host-sisters as some of my most loyal and eager students. When we weren’t at the community center for the English lessons, we were in our backyard playing or taking walks around the neighborhood. I also got to spend a great deal of time with my host-aunt. She taught me how to make traditional Polish potato pancakes with the German topping of a tart applesauce. I had gone to Poland hoping to gain an understanding of Polish culture, and by the time I left, I had certainly gained that through my stay with my wonderful Polish host-family, who I still keep in touch with. Much to my surprise, I had even learned a bit about German culture in the process. I think this is a testament to the fact that once you open the door for some cultural exchange there are few limits to what will transpire and what will be gained. I’m immensely grateful to LE for opening that door for me.

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Transportation, Food, and Foreign Languages

Written by volunteer Tim Coan, originally on http://gucaravel.com/on-transportation-food-and-foreign-languages/

Each day, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, my host family and I formally sit down and eat together. At one of the dinners this week, my host sister had a friend visiting her family, and he asked me what struck me most about Romania as different from my life back in the United States. So, here are the three things I find most different about life in Romania in the Transylvanian region:

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21 Days in Hungary

Written by volunteer Sarah Sheets, originally published on her blog https://21daysinhungary.tumblr.com/

Teaching and the Students

I came to love the civil center where we worked. I could not think of Hungary without Szilvia and Anniko coming to mind. They were both such friendly faces to see in the office every morning. They were always smiling– they smiled when I unsuccessfully tried to use their coffee maker and spilled coffee grinds everywhere, and they smiled when we got ourselves even more confused when trying to understand why the English language is the way it is. I looked forward to eating lunch with them every day, and one of my favorite memories with them was watching the Hungary vs. Portugal game in the pub above the office (which was a prime location, might I add), drinking cheap wine and beer that we bought in the corner store, and laughing at different people’s game-day attire.

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A Day at the Lake

Written by volunteer, Tim Coan, originally on http://gucaravel.com/a-day-at-the-lake/

An aging tower sits in the middle of a field in Transylvania.

Near the little town of Szalard located in Transylvania, my  home for the last two weeks, is a manmade lake that the locals frequently use for swimming, fishing, and hanging out. My host family and I originally planned on being at the lake on Saturday, but a fast-moving thunderstorm interrupted our plans just as we arrived at the lake on our bikes. So, we headed home in the rain in order to  regroup and formulate a new plan to head back to the lake on Sunday. Thankfully, the weather on Sunday was a lot nicer and perfect for swimming, so my host brother, a neighbor, and I headed to the lake for a relaxing afternoon.

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