I arrived at Bad Wurzach on the 21 of September, just one month ago. It is so funny! On one hand, I already got used to the routine here and it feels like if I have been living here for a long time. On the other hand, though, I have the impression that this month passed by really quickly, I guess because I have been busy adapting to the new environment.
Working at Salvator Kolleg
Here the volunteers take certain tasks according to our skills and interests. In my case, I am helping in English, Spanish and Art lessons.
Being a trained Spanish teacher, I am of course giving support in the Spanish lessons. They take place just once a week, on Wednesday, and it's an extra optional subject. However, there are quite a few students coming from different classes. At the moment, with all the Covid-19 regulations, it is not possible to have all the students in the same classroom, as they are not from the same year. They also have differences in their Spanish level. In the three lessons I've been able to go to, I was teaching three beginners in one classroom, whilst, in the other one, the main Spanish teacher was taking care of the rest of the kids. It has been great being able to teach these three kids by myself, and not being simply the assistant teacher. Also, the students are nice, and seem motivated and happy to do all the tasks I suggested. I think that I will have quite a lot of freedom to design the lessons and propose dynamic activities, which will help me a lot to improve as a teacher.
In the English lessons, the support I give is different. The teachers follow their lesson programs and I go around the tables checking and correcting grammar mistakes on the students' exercises or writings. On the other hand, in activities that require oral exchange, I make them speak more English by making them explain better or with more detail the topic they are working on. In one case, I had the chance to be in charge of the whole class without the main teacher, as she wasn’t able to come on that date. It was a nice experience, as I felt comfortable with the students, and I liked the activities that the teacher had programmed for the lesson, which were focused on speaking and sharing ideas orally. Honestly, I am quite surprised by the English level of the students in this school! Although in the first years (9-13 years old) this foreign language is still challenging, most of the older students are able to have a fluent conversation with me in English.
I love Art, and it’s great that here I have the opportunity to go to the Art classes. I am joining them with three different teachers. With one of them, the children are still quite young and they can sometimes be too loud, as many have difficulties to focus for long on their tasks and get easily distracted. For the Art teacher, it is useful if I keep an eye on the children, checking that they are working and not just talking with their friends. On the other hand, the other two Art teachers have classes of older students who are always very involved in their projects. So far, I have been learning about the kind of creative work they are asked to do: a papier collé expressing how they are feeling with the current Covid-19 situation, a drawing on a plate inspired by the Art Nouveau style, or a painting of a landscape with impressionist features. I feel always welcomed in the Art classes, and I connect really well with the teachers, who appreciate the fact that I want to be there accompanying them.
Another task that volunteers do in Salvator Kolleg is taking care of the school library two days per week. So far, I’ve done that job on Fridays. It’s actually a very easy task, because it's quiet and most of the students come to study or use the computer, without taking nor returning any book.
From time to time, we are also asked to do other jobs. For example, these last weeks I have been reorganising the English dictionaries. They were all mixed up in boxes between the two school buildings and some of them were missing. Now all the boxes and shelves are properly labeled and with the right amount of books. The English teachers really appreciate that!
Let’s talk about the students in this school. I am amazed by how good their behaviour is! They work hard, they stop talking when the teachers need to explain something, they are eager to participate, they seem motivated to learn and make a big effort on every subject… I honestly had never seen something like that before, as it has nothing to do with Spanish Secondary Schools, where loud classes and lack of respect is almost a rule. It definitely makes a big difference on the teaching quality. It feels so much nicer and rewarding as a teacher here!
How have I spent my free time?
There are two more volunteers in the school apart from me, they come from France and Greece. Therefore, we meet together some evenings in one of the bars in Bad Wurzach to have a drink and chat. It is always fun with them.
The teacher who is in charge of the volunteers in the school has made sure that we have enough activities here to keep us busy. On the first weekend we cooked and had dinner all together at her place. She also invited us to go to a small cinema in Bad Waldsee, which was a nice activity for the evening. On one Sunday morning I went hiking with her and her husband around Isny, a town located a few kilometres to the South from here. She also suggested me to join the Bad Wurzach hiking club. This last weekend I did join the hiking trip to Dreifürstenstein, in the Swabian Alps. The hike was beautiful, but I am doubtful about joining again, as all the members are quite older than me. But no worries, I am sure I'll be able to find other people to hike with!
Last year I made some German friends when I was living abroad, and some of them happen to live quite close to me now! On one of these weekends, I went to Konstanz to visit one of them, and another friend from Stuttgart joined as well. It was great seeing them again after several months. It was also nice to get out of this tiny village, see the Lake Constance for the first time and visit the beautiful cities of Konstanz and Zurich with my friends. I am looking forward to meeting them more often while I am here and do some activities together.
Volunteering abroad in times of Covid-19
Of course, the current pandemic situation is not ideal when we are abroad trying to explore a country, go out, meet people and, ultimately, have a fruitful experience. I had to quarantine in my apartment when I arrived here; there are not so many clubs open due to regulations; it is not so safe to travel too much around Germany (or any country); and today we got the update that the Introductory Seminar for volunteers will we hold online instead of in Weimar. That’s not very encouraging, right?
That said, although we are facing all these obstacles, I will try to make the best of this experience. At least the schools are still open and we can explore and do some activities around the area!
What has surprised me the most about Bad Wurzach?
1. Small, small village
I enjoy the quiet life of villages, as well as being sorrounded by nature. Simple things like going for a walk in the forest or reading a book with a cup of tea are enough to make me happy. That's one of the reasons for which I decided to come here.
Nevertheless, just before coming here I had been living for one year in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). That city is huge, with plenty of skyscrapers, where it's almost impossible to escape from the city noise, but also where you definitely won't get bored, as there are so many activities available. As you may imagine, moving from Kuala Lumpur to Bad Wurzach, a tiny village not so well communicated with the surrounding towns, has been quite a big shock for me. What am I going to do now? Where are all the restaurants and bars where I could easily go to? Or the shopping centres or sport centres where I could find so many activities to do?
That said, it's not difficult for me getting back to the simple lifestyle of a small village. I knew where I was going to, and I feel that it will be beneficial being more in contact with nature and in a quiet and stress-free environment.
2. It's so cold here!
As I just mentioned, I was for one year in Malaysia, a country with a tropical climate where the average temperature can range from 28°C to 32°C. Honestly, I had forgotten what cold feels like. Already during the first week here, the temperatures dropped down to less than 10°C. And it was only September!
By now, I've got used to wearing two pairs of thick socks, leggings under my trousers, and a long sleeve thermal T-shirt as my first layer on my upper body. Luckily layers do make a huge difference to face the cold! In my apartment's room, the heating wasn't working for a few days. I was sitting at my desk and even my nose was freezing cold! Don't worry, though! My landlords came to repair the radiator as soon as I told them that there was something wrong. Now my room is cosy and warm! But anyway, let’s be positive about the weather. I appreciate now much more the sunny days! When the sun shines, I make sure that I am enjoying every bit of it outdoors!
Anyhow, I think I will survive the winter with my uncountable amount of layers and spending a big part of my free time at home: reading, playing board games, watching films, doing crafts, or studying some German. It will surely be very productive! And if we are lucky, there will be snow to play with!
3. Friendly people everywhere!
When I arrived here, I had to quarantine, as I was coming from Spain, a high-risk country for Covid-19. Right when my quarantine was over, I went out for a walk to see the village and its surroundings, to feel the freedom again! On the very first street, I ran into a woman who, with a friendly smile on her face, told me how nice was the colour of my jacket. That made me feel so welcomed here!
It is no different whether I am at the market, at the school, or strolling around the town. People always makes me feel comfortable and I find help whenever I need it. That has made it a lot easier for me at the school. Starting a conversation with any teacher is really easy, and most of the times are the others the ones who come to talk to you. They are also very interested in how I am doing here, and ask me any kind of questions, which make me feel appreciated and valued.
I feel also lucky with my landlords. It's nice to come across them and exchange some words about how our day is going, for instance. They are a nice and friendly couple and live with two curious but shy furry cats. And they are always there to assist us with whatever we need, such as repairing the heating or lending us bikes.
As socializing is so easy here, my German level is significantly improving. Although I still struggle with some grammatical structures or finding specific terms, I feel much more confident to talk and I can communicate much better than one month ago. Ah! And regarding the language issue, I also have to deal with people who speak a strong Swabian dialect! I can assure you, it is not easy at all to understand!
That’s it for now! I am excited to continue exploring, learning and meeting people. This month has definitely been a good start of my volunteering project in Bad Wurzach.