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.
The summer of 2016 was very special. The adventures of catching a bus, speaking the Panamanian slang, celebrating street festivals, and getting invited to the U.S. Embassy were a few of the adventures LEPanama experienced. The Panamanians welcomed us; from their homes and their schools, to their communities.
Written by volunteer, Tim Coan, originally on http://gucaravel.com/final-week-with-my-host-family-in-szalard/
Going into my home-stay experience, I was unsure of what to expect, and needless to say, I was terrified: a family of strangers, a foreign language, and a town in a far away country that I’d never been to before. What was I getting myself into?
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:
Written by volunteer Sarah Sheets, originally published on her blog https://21daysinhungary.tumblr.com/
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.
Written by volunteer, Tim Coan, originally on http://gucaravel.com/a-day-at-the-lake/
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.
Written by volunteer, Michelle Purnama originally on https://freelymagazine.com/2017/09/29/my-summer-in-poland
I recall trying to teach algebra to my younger sister 7 years ago. I remember my frustration when she struggled to comprehend what I was trying to teach her. I told myself that I would not be able to be a good teacher. Fast-forward 7 years later, when I had the opportunity to spend my summer teaching English in a village in Southern Poland called Zalasowa – a scenario which my younger self would never have imagined.
Written by volunteer: Tim Coan originally on http://gucaravel.com/my-first-week-in-a-romanian-orphanage/
In my psychology class last semester, we discussed child development focusing on Romanian orphanages as an example of an environment in which kids struggled to develop socially due to a lack of attention resulting from overcrowding. So, when I realized that my last three weeks in Romania would be spent living in a Romanian orphanage, I was anxious and uncertain about what to expect.
Written by volunteer, Tim Coan, originally found on http://gucaravel.com/transylvanian-hospitality/
“Hey! Come back here!” My head swivels at the English as I walk down the street to watch the soccer practice that many of the orphans are taking part in. “Come back!” I hear again, a voice coming from the little pub, the only one in the village, that I just passed. As I make my way back towards the pub, a man greets me and says “American, right?” I nod my head, and he immediately smiles and says to me, “Come in, drinks on me.”
Below, our Romania & Croatia Program Director, Haley Moen, writes about her experiences volunteering on the program last summer. The Romania & Croatia program is an interesting program based across two European countries with a variety of teaching settings. For more details, please visit the program page.
Session 1: Solanta Orphanage, Romania
My experience at Solanta orphanage was defined by universal languages and an appreciation for simplicity. Although I often felt frustrated by the steep language barrier, I went to bed every night feeling content because of the small yet impactful moments that filled each day.
My favorite moments at the orphanage were when the children and I discovered common languages such as sports. I’ll never forget how shocked some of the boys were when they learned that I, (a girl!), could juggle and pass a soccer ball. Soon enough, we played soccer almost every day on their worn-down, patchy field with two crooked goal posts on either end. It didn’t matter that we spoke different languages because we all understood the sport. The passes, dribbles, sprints, high-fives, and shouts of names were the only forms of communication that we needed. Our games would always get too competitive, which made them even more fun!
Another universal language we discovered was music. I was so excited when I realized that most of the children knew “The Cup Song” from Pitch Perfect. They tapped out the beat on plastic cups while I sang. One of my favorite students, Atilla, even tried to learn all the lyrics; he just mumbled out similar-sounding syllables as I sang the real words since it was pretty advanced vocabulary for his level. It was a great effort, though! I was proud.
Some of my other favorite universal languages were drawing, dancing, smiling, and laughing. It sounds cheesy, but I felt most connected to the children when we laughed and acted goofy together. Although Eva and I only taught English for one or two hours every morning, the love that was exchanged between us and the children was why we went to bed every night feeling like we made an impact—no matter how small or fleeting it was.
Along with my excitement for common languages, I also appreciated the beauty of simplicity. Life at the orphanage was minimal. Every day we ate plain white bread, cucumbers, and hot tea for breakfast. Eva and I taught our lessons on a picnic bench or on the pavement using only construction paper, markers, chalk, and a dirty tennis ball. During the evenings we sat on our front steps and watched the sun set as the boys milked the brown goat named Susie. Some of the boys would chase the goats and sheep around the pen—the object of their game was to try an animal before it got away. They spoke and shouted in Hungarian; I only understood their laughter as they poked fun at each other and dashed after the sheep. Above all, the children’s love and support for one another were clear. They always had a smile to give and their smiles were always more than enough to receive. It was during those times when I acknowledged the brilliance of simplicity and when I felt deeply grateful for everything that I learned at the orphanage.
Session 2: Biograd na Moru, Croatia
Biograd na Moru contrasted greatly from the orphanage. First, my relationship with my Croatian students were less intense because I only saw each class for one hour a day, and most of the classes only met three times a week. I was strictly a teacher to the Croatian kids, whereas I felt more like an older sister at the orphanage. This type of LE experience in Biograd allowed me to focus directly on my teaching skills, which was rewarding and enjoyable. For example, I spent much more time lesson planning since I actually had structured classes with luxurious tools such as a projector, laptop, and copy machine. Since Anya and I taught during weekday mornings, we spent our afternoons at our favorite beaches and spent our weekends traveling to nearby Croatian cities with our host Mom, Drina. These excursions allowed Anya and me to experience Croatian culture and nightlife. For example, we watched the sun set in Zadar, which is famous for Ernest Hemingway’s claim that Zadar has the most beautiful sunsets in the world (I could not agree more)!
Another great day in Biograd was August 5: the Victory and Homeland Thanksgiving Day/Day of Croatian Defenders. This national holiday commemorates Croatia’s War of Independence in 1995, when the Croatian Army took the city of Knin during Operation Storm and ended the Republic of Serbian Krajina. I felt so lucky to celebrate this day in Biograd, where there were festivals, food, singers, performers, fireworks, and more.
The more I reflected by the sea and the more I saw of Croatia, the more I realized the enormity of our world and the different types of people that inhabit it. I spent my childhood and early teenage years thinking that I could “change the whole world”—I would literally daydream about the ways I could impact the entire world. My LE summer made me realize that the overwhelming complexity of the planet can be solved with the cultivation of meaningful relationships and the discovery of common languages. Overall, the best part about LE is that every volunteer has a unique experience, and each interprets his or her own experience in different ways. One thing for sure is that LE provides an opportunity for people to discover significant things about the world and themselves while befriending people that they otherwise probably would have never met. This summer was unforgettably incredible, and I feel so grateful to have lived it.