The day I left my home last September in order to start a volunteering service, I had almost no idea what I was getting into. Now, In July, I can call it a real adventure!
My project is called „Future 4 Us“ and it is hosted by a non-governmental organization in Ostrava, which is the third largest city of Czech Republic. It is all about non-formal education. My tasks were super various, and I appreciated that there was never such a thing as a “daily routine”.
On Mondays and Wednesdays, we spent the afternoon in Družina, where kids can stay after school and play until their parents pick them up. So basically our job there was playing games all afternoon. The challenge: Kids from six to ten don’t speak English to you (even though we had one extraordinary talented young boy with really good English!). Communicating with hands and feet instead of words worked well the first weeks and after some time we understood quite well what the kids were telling us. This has taught me a lot about communication and interaction with children. It was something completely new for me.
On Tuesdays and Fridays I spent 3 to 4 hours in Matiční Gymnázium, which is a grammar school in Ostrava. I was there to help out in the German lessons for teenagers. This was by far my most favourite part of the project. Teaching your own language to foreigners opens up a whole new perspective to you. I learned so much about German that I did never even think about before. I experienced how language teaching works, learned some methods and also had the space to find my own ones. In addition to that, I met great people, even new friends and established some university contacts. And now, after this year, I can say that my volunteering service helped me deciding on what to study after I come back to my home country. It will be German and English Linguistics. For sure.
Another task we had as volunteers were the presentations. Many, many presentations. From time to time my French colleague Valentin and me visited primary schools and grammar schools in Ostrava to present different topics. For the kids we had presentations about ourselves and our countries, to give them the possibility to have a peak over the borders of Czech Republic and to speak English to a foreigner. Furthermore we filled lessons with the topic „European Day of Languages“ and spoke about French and German, taught them some phrases and had fun reading out tongue breakers.
In the grammar schools the topics were more about our voluntary service. Whereas in Germany it is really normal and almost expected to have a gap year after school or some experience abroad, in Czech Republic this is a big exception. Students grow up knowing that after the Gymnázium they should go straight to university. We tried to open their minds a little bit and told them about opportunities they could take to get some experiences in another country. We spoke about the benefits this can have, about the reasons why it is an important step in life and also about some barriers and how to break through them.
For me, the biggest barrier here was presenting in front of a lot of persons. I am glad I overcame this quickly and now I can say that altogether I had presentations in front of over 400 different people. My confidence got a big boost this year and I am really thankful for this. For sure, this will come in handy in the future.
Besides these tasks we regularly helped out in the office of our organization. We spent the time there preparing our language lessons, writing articles for blogs and newspapers or – at least in the beginning – studied Czech. But I have to admit that the one thing I did not learn in my year in Czech Republic… is Czech. In my opinion It’s a really interesting language. There is so much logic hidden within it and I think it is really special. Nevertheless I have to say it is hard. Really hard. And after months of trying and multiple teacher changes we kind of gave up on this. For people who are only familiar with Roman languages it is a hard mission to learn a Slavic one, so after all I decided to study only until the point where I am able to handle my daily life and work. And after that point I was sure, I won’t need it anymore.
Anyway, I used the opportunity to learn about languages, compare them and strengthen my interest in this topic as I want to study languages later, but now I cannot really speak Czech to anyone but the cashier. Still, I understand more than people around me usually think. ^^
We also had the opportunity to support the English Club in a primary school and an English lesson for seniors from time to time. It showed me how people of different age groups need different methods to learn and to remember things.
All in all I can say that I really focused my volunteering project on teaching languages and I am lucky for being able to do so.
I am super thankful for the possibility of experiencing all of this, I met so many great people and I will never forget them. I think I developed myself a lot during my time in Ostrava and I learned sooo much!