So y’all want to know more about what volunteering at Englischhausen was like? Glad to oblige.
In a nutshell: One week. A group of locals. An equal number of Anglos (English-speaking volunteers). One secluded rural location. Total English immersion, led by an MC and a programme director.
(Just a note: I’m referring to the German arm of the umbrella Diverbo programme, but there is also a Spanish one, the original one, which runs on the same model and known as Pueblo Ingles. I’m told they party a lot harder and the days start an hour later/finish an hour later. The Spanish one also has a lot more locations. PLUS there’s another held in Ireland, which I understand is for Spaniards as well.)
What to expect
Do NOT go if you want to improve your German.
It is not a language exchange. It is an English immersion course, and only English is spoken all week (even to the German hotel staff, though they do understand English, and even amongst the German students themselves). That’s why they want native English speakers as volunteers. HOWEVER, there is an equivalent immersion programme for those who want to learn Spanish, and you should get a discount if you are a veteran (I got an email right after finishing our volunteer week offering one).
Expect to talk more than you’ve ever talked in your life.
I may be exaggerating slightly, but if you have a job like mine that mostly consists of sitting at a computer, you probably don’t speak out loud all that often during the work day. The Englischhausen course is based around one-to-one sessions where you pair up with a student and talk for an hour at a time.
What about? Absolutely anything. Family. Work. Culture. Travel (they were all very well travelled and a bunch had actually been to NZ before). Economics and politics. The way the world is headed. Or simply answering questions about how to phrase certain things, how to construct sentences, whether you would use this word or that word, clarifying the meanings of words or phrases.
We did this several times a day, with breaks for lunch, phone sessions (the same thing, but talking on the phone), a few group discussion sessions and some group activities. Along the way, we corrected any mistakes they made and exposed them to a lot of new vocabulary.
Be prepared to work hard and play hard.
Long days, late nights – especially if you partake in the evening activities, and you definitely should. Ours included a campfire, pub quiz, and a good old party on the last night. Ain’t no better way to bond than by doing the YMCA/Gangnam dance en masse. It’s always the dark horses who turn out to have the best moves…
You may come out of it a tad sleep deprived, but you’ll have a pretty comfortable stay.
There’s good food (lots of it) very nice accommodation, a bucolic and isolated location, a sauna, pool, and Jacuzzi (though neither of the latter are particularly hot). I loved taking walks in the forest during our sessions and picking fruit along the way. The wild berries may have been almost microscopic, but the strawberries were the sweetest I’ve ever tasted in my life.
Think about something you might like to share with the group.
Every evening we had a variety hour, where a few people took part in theatre skits and others gave presentations. We learned about American football, corporate burnout, heard Swedish and Norwegian songs, and a ton of jokes.
I think that if you’re from a smaller country, it’s nice to take the chance to share something from it that most people might not otherwise be exposed to. T played a few videos of different hakas and explained the tradition, demonstrated a hongi, and when it came time to share a local song around the bonfire, we teamed up with the sole Aussie in the group to do Pokarekare Ana (which she actually knew the lyrics to, and beat me to suggesting!) It’s funny, because before leaving homeI thought to myself that we should learn a simple song like that in full, in case we were ever compelled to sing an NZ song acapella overseas. We didn’t, though, and had to Google the words for the latter verses.
There will be tears.
When you leave, that is. (And maybe in between, who knows?) I wouldn’t say I met any soul sister/brother types, but I enjoyed the company of every single one of the students, from my young and wide-eyed Swiss buddy to the older and more gregarious guys. We also got on surprisingly well with some of the older Anglo ladies, who I think saw their own kids reflected in us.
You like to talk.
You’re interested in people.
Talking is one part of the equation; listening is the other.
You aren’t a douchebag.
You’re going to be thrown in with a bunch of people from all different countries, cultures, beliefs, and walks of life. In a situation like this, you don’t want to find yourself going out of your way to avoid certain people all week. But if you DO end up being that person, hey, at least you’re giving everyone else something in common to bond over.
A few last thoughts…
Overall, our group of students had an incredibly high level of English and we hardly ever had trouble understanding them. It was just a matter of a) practice and b) confidence, both of which I think they gained over the week. I have so much respect for them. I can’t ever imagine improving my grasp of German or Japanese – the two languages I took oh-so-briefly in high school and now remember maybe five words of each – to the point that I could do the same type of thing.
Most had learned English in school, and some had done non-intensive courses (except one guy who had picked up multiple languages simply by literally learning on the job) but now wanted or needed to improve their fluency for whatever reason. Some were sent by their employers, some attended of their own accord. All were awesome human beings, and I would love to meet them again; I think we convinced a couple to come visit after regaling them with tales of NZ life, so here’s hoping…
The course exposes them to a lot of different accents, which I’m sure was super challenging, but also a good thing to be forced to deal with. I found it interesting how some of the Germans were more accustomed to UK spelling/pronunciation/expressions while others were more Americanised. (I don’t think I realised just how large the gap is until this week.) Either way, I had to laugh when one of the students mentioned that when it came time to learn the lyrics to the German song they sang around the campfire, some of them found themselves (mis)pronouncing words like an Anglo would.
Again, here is the website for Diverbo. Volunteers have their food and accommodation covered (the students pay a fee to participate, obviously) but have to fund flights themselves. Personally, I’m angling to apply for Pueblo Ingles in the future and build a trip to Madrid and Portugal around that…