November 27, 2023, by Rebekah

Global Placement Grant – my time volunteering with Gotoco

by Kimberley Shaw, Economics student.

Over the summer, I had the most amazing opportunity to volunteer with Gotoco as a volunteer English teacher in Germany and Spain. When you volunteer with Gotoco, you have one week before the placement programme begins. This is where you get a cultural tour and a chance to visit the main sights of the city that you’re based in as well as the necessary training to complete your placement. I spent my cultural tour in Munich with my fellow English teacher trainees exploring the vibrant city’s beer gardens, multiple parks and nightlife.

I spent three weeks in Friedrichshafen, a city on the border of Germany and Switzerland, teaching children from the ages of about 7-16 English. Whilst in Spain, I acted as a conversational tutor for Spanish teachers who taught their classes in English due to a Valencian government initiative. During my Germany program, in the mornings I would teach an English lesson and in the afternoons we would have our outdoor activities which could include going to the local ‘strand’, otherwise known as beach in English or playing the capture the flag amongst a variety of other activities.

My Spain placement was much more relaxed. I spent three weeks in the rural town of Venta del Charco (located in Cordoba) with a population of around 50 people, spending our days having 1-1 conversations with the teachers, hosting games such as Room 101 and spending our siestas lounging in the villa’s pools. Despite the very different placements, I thoroughly enjoyed both of them.

My internship landed in my hands (quite literally, I found it on Instagram). In November 2022, I was scrolling online and saw an advertisement for a volunteer programme in Europe. At the time, I felt incredibly restless and desperate to travel; the opportunity had come at the right time. I put my name on the mailing list but didn’t apply until 2023 in January. I had to submit an initial online application and, a general video interview and then had additional interviews with the individual placement providers.

My favourite aspect of my work experience was the kids. Leading a classroom of kids and watching them participate in an activity you painstakingly planned was phenomenal. I also had the privilege of getting to hang around with some of the most kindest, thoughtful kids I’ve ever met. One of the highlights of my Germany placement was watching the kids do my lesson plan on social media which included having a debate on whether social media had a net positive effect. As the President of the Debate Union, it warmed my heart to see how involved they got and how much it was stretching their English.

It made me realise that I was good at planning engaging lessons for children and might even be a good teacher in the future. In addition, I loved the camaraderie that I gained with the Spanish teachers. Despite the age gap, they respected us and valued the experience of having native-level speakers speak to them throughout the whole day. I even stayed in contact with some of the Spanish teachers after my programme, visiting them in their respective cities.

I’m also able to gain a Level 5 Qualification in Teaching English as a Second Language and I’m  due to complete it around December.

The biggest challenge was the long hours, especially during my Germany placement. Our day would start at 8am and we’d normally end the day around midnight as we had to stay up to create bespoke lessons plans. With children you need to be alert and energetic, not just for their safety but to ensure they stay engaged. Also, the children were coming to the summer camp to have a good time; I felt like I owed it to them to be as energetic as possible.

At the beginning of my program, I was incredibly ill. I questioned whether I could do the long hours and give the kids my maximum attention. Fortunately, I stuck with it and eventually adapted to the long hours and recovered from my illness. Once I realised, I could also have fun with the kids and let go of the idea of being perfect, the long hours started to feel much shorter and started to fly by.

If you want to volunteer as an English teacher with Gotoco, be prepared to work hard. You will push yourself but you’ll also have the most fun you’ve ever had. You’ll also be surrounded by other volunteers who are very similar to you, they will be your main support system and make sure that you get through the tough parts with a smile on your face. You’ll also get to spend the cultural tour week with them and you’ll be surprised by how close you get with them. I even travelled with some of my fellow volunteers after the programme ended.

Most importantly, embrace the unexpected. You might be out of your comfort zone but that’s the best thing about the program. Put yourself out there and you’ll be surprised by the person you become.

Posted in Global Placement GrantInternational Work Experience Blogs