How to work for free AND have the time of your life doing it

Diverbo Englischhausen at Schone Aussicht in the Black Forest, Munich - Germany

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.)

schone aussicht chandelier

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.


Apply if:

You like to talk.
Self-explanatory, really.

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.

cute wooden carved animals schone aussicht

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…

39 thoughts on “How to work for free AND have the time of your life doing it

  • Reply Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies July 26, 2013 at 11:39

    Sounds too cool! What part of Germany were you in? Did you hang around the place most of the time, or did you take day trips with some of the students?

    • Reply eemusings July 27, 2013 at 05:39

      Black Forest, near Hornberg. Very isolated 🙂 Days were basically full from 8-late, so aside from walks through the forest nearby, we stuck to the lodge.

      • Reply Annette January 23, 2016 at 10:46

        Did you ever make it to Spain? I applied to go this year. Would love to read about your experience

        • Reply eemusings January 24, 2016 at 21:39

          Oh exciting! No, no big travel plans in the near future, but would definitely love to do a Spain/Portugal trip one day and fit in the programme if it’s still around then.

  • Reply Mo' Money Mo' Houses July 27, 2013 at 02:49

    What a cool idea! I’ve always wanted to visit Germany too!

  • Reply krantcents July 27, 2013 at 07:31

    I love the idea, but a whole week is a bit much! I think you can learn a lot about people and the country.

  • Reply Michelle's Finance Journal July 27, 2013 at 08:04

    It sounds cool, but I don’t think I qualify since English is my second language. Although I am fluent, I need to mix it up with my native language. Maybe I should be there as a student. haha~

  • Reply Marissa @ Thirty Six Months July 27, 2013 at 22:02

    You know what you’re right. When I started working from home, I became really less talkative. I guess I should go out more often with friends.

  • Reply Brian July 28, 2013 at 04:09

    Sounds like an awesome experience, and a good way to spend a week off the beaten track. No doubt you’ll keep in touch with some of them over time and have a place to stay next time you’re in Germany!

  • Reply Tahnya Kristina July 28, 2013 at 04:53

    That sounds like a great experience. I volunteer for a few events a year and I really enjoy it. Have a great weekend.

  • Reply Stephany July 28, 2013 at 07:38

    This just sounds like such a cool experience and a fun way to give back while on your trip. I think it would be such a growth, eye-opening experience to do something like this and make me come out of my shell! I can’t say I totally enjoy talking, though, and I am super awkward around people I don’t know but it sounds so cool!

    • Reply eemusings July 28, 2013 at 09:47

      You know what, I’m really not a talker at all, either, and I was a little nervous – but it was really good to challenge myself. You might surprise yourself 🙂

      • Reply MakintheBacon August 5, 2013 at 11:48

        I’m not much of a talker myself, but that definitely is a good way to challenge yourself to become more open. I would choose that over public speaking, that’s for sure. I find myself talking very open and honestly, when the conversation topic is interesting. People who are well travelled seem more interesting in general. At least to me.
        I also found that while traveling Europe several years back, I met some very interesting people and had amazing conversations with them. I wonder why I don’t have those types of conversations here locally? lol.

  • Reply Christina July 28, 2013 at 07:41

    Love those photos with the colourfully painted stones. Glad you enjoyed the Black Forest!

  • Reply Debt and the Girl July 30, 2013 at 03:31

    I would love to volunteer more if I could. Its such a rewarding experience. It sounds like you had a lot of fun.

  • Reply First Gen American July 30, 2013 at 05:03

    What a lovely trip it’s been so far. I found my year abroad to be life changing. I hope it is for you as well. You still planning on staying with us in October?

    • Reply eemusings July 31, 2013 at 10:49

      Yes, if you’ll have us! 🙂 Should have some time next month to think about and firm up our route.

  • Reply SuburbanFinance July 30, 2013 at 11:45

    Sounds like a great experience. I’ve really never done anything like that before.

  • Reply Mutant Supermodel August 6, 2013 at 04:01

    This is right up my alley. I can talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk

  • Reply Jennifer August 6, 2013 at 19:51

    This is such a great idea, I hadn’t heard of diverbo before you said, but would definitely consider it

  • Reply Marissa @ Finance Triggers August 13, 2013 at 14:22

    It’s really nice to be able to volunteer for a few events annually because for some people it gives them an opportunity to change lives.

  • Reply Em August 25, 2013 at 23:43

    I read this when I was trying to decide whether to attend – I do go and I loved it.
    A similar blog post, here – http://www.trailmixblog.net/2013/08/25/the-talk-is-free-english-conversation-volunteering/.
    Did you find any other interesting volunteer options whilst in Europe?

    • Reply eemusings August 29, 2013 at 08:20

      Just through HelpX/Workaway/WWOOF, but no specific ones quite like this one.

  • Reply Iska December 19, 2013 at 12:46

    Your experience sounds amazing! I’ve just applied, actually (to the German location).
    My only concern is the evening events: does EVERY volunteer need to present something? Although I can taaaalk, I have trouble talking in front of people…

    • Reply eemusings December 19, 2013 at 13:39

      HA, that was my only real concern as well!

      Not everyone has to present something but everyone is encouraged to participate in some way – we also put on little plays so a lot of people took part in those instead (or in addition to presentations). I was in the first play the first night – it was a silent play – so I never had to speak publicly.

      • Reply Iska December 19, 2013 at 14:02

        Whew..thanks for your feedback!:)
        I hope they get back to me with a “yes”.

        • Reply eemusings December 19, 2013 at 14:25

          Fingers crossed for you! It’ll be rad.

  • Reply Iska December 19, 2013 at 14:01

    Whew..thanks for your feedback!:)
    I hope they get back to me with a “yes”.

  • Reply Updates: July 21 – 27 | The Outlier Model January 18, 2014 at 08:13

    […] NZ Muse shares her experience of volunteering for a week in Germany. […]

  • Reply Charlie March 29, 2014 at 21:38

    You’re right, sounds a lot like the Polish version! =)

  • Reply Jesse Rozas June 16, 2014 at 12:41

    I know this might be a long shot, but I came across your blog and noticed you sang a song with an Aussie woman. After reading your blog I found another blog by an Aussie woman that says she sang the same song with a Kiwi couple. Is there any way that these stories are related? Here is the link to her blog: http://myvagabondways.com/?p=776

    • Reply eemusings June 16, 2014 at 12:44

      HA! Yes. That’s us. Small world indeed.

      • Reply Jesse Rozas June 16, 2014 at 19:52

        Wow. That is crazy! Did you know about the other blog?

        • Reply eemusings June 17, 2014 at 08:53

          Hmmm… I don’t recall her mentioning a blog while we were in Germany. Gold stars to you, sir, and your close reading!

          • Jesse Rozas June 17, 2014 at 09:53

            It’s not so much close reading as it is me obsessing about traveling to Europe.

  • Reply Sierra October 14, 2016 at 07:51

    I just heard about this program and I am so interested! Did you ever make a trip back to one of the other locations?

    • Reply eemusings October 14, 2016 at 08:41

      Not yet. Definitely planning to try the Spanish one – but not sure when! May be a while before we can make it work … hopefully the programme is still going strong by then.

  • Reply Susan May 16, 2019 at 13:10

    I loved your blog. I’ve been accepted to the Laubach location in July. I know the structure of Diverbo, having done the Spain (la Alberca) in 2017.

    My question for you:
    -Is the village walking distance and can I make it to the village in the break time given to us?
    -Does Diverbo take us for an afternoon excursion to the village, or local castle?

    • Reply eemusings May 17, 2019 at 10:26

      Hi! We did Black Forest not Laubach so I couldn’t tell you unfortunately! I’m checking out the Laubach location page now though – it looks so charming, I’m sure it’ll be a fabulous time 🙂

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