Where I look back over the three weeks I spent volunteer teaching in Poland and think about what I learned. We then try and decide who would benefit from the programme.
What is Angloville?
For those who don’t know, Angloville is a scheme whereby you can volunteer to teach/mentor English learners in Poland (and some other countries, mostly in Eastern Europe).
I went to teach adults, but they do have a version for children too.
It works like most volunteer placements, such as you find on Workaway or similar sites. You swap an agreed number of hours labour in return for accommodation and food.
Angloville offer a free (shared) room in a 3-star hotel for the duration of your placement, plus three meals a day. In return, you are working around twelve hours a day, from breakfast through to evening activities, with just an hour and a half off for lunch. It’s long hours, although not especially hard work (at least not on the adult programme; I think the kids would be a lot more physically demanding).
My time at Angloville
They were long days but they chugged along quite rapidly with plenty to do. Some people complained that it was too much, but I agreed to it at the beginning and the hours they said was what I got.
You need to be fairly outgoing. I’m quite introverted and found having people around me all the time very difficult. I like to find some quiet time each day to sit with my book or my sketch pad and just be in my own world, but it was difficult here, where you are surrounded by people all the time. But that’s just personal to me.
Most sessions were one to one. The lesson ‘suggestions’ were handed out to you for each session. Some of them were embarrassingly bad, full of idiomatic expressions that nobody really uses these days. Others were more useful. It helps if you have some ideas of your own up your sleeve, rather than relying on them.
I did three separate programmes whilst I was in Poland, although they all ran broadly the same. It started with a kind of speed-dating type event, where you moved around the room chatting for just a few minutes with each person. Then you either got picked, or were allocated, a student to prepare for presenting a speech at the end of the programme.
The rooms were perfectly nice 3 star rooms. We were randomly assigned rooms and roommate. There was a lot of moaning and changing around each week.
A lot of people complained about the food; it wasn’t so bad but one of the hotels was noticeably better than the other. If you are vegetarian/vegan/gluten intolerant then you may struggle to get enough to eat on some of the days.
Certainly I ate better than I do at home. There were none of those days I get here at the end of the month where I open my fridge and stare into the bare abyss thinking ‘ok, what can I make out of half a carrot, a bowl of almonds and some cranberry jelly?
Who is the program useful for?
Angloville charge participants between €1000 – 1500 for a week on the course. Polish wages are around the lowest in the EU, so this is not cheap. Most participants that I asked were self-funding.
It works well for some of the participants but for others, for example people who are really timid or people with a really low level of English, it works less well. You need a certain level of English before you can participate in conversations.
Whereas some of the participants seemed pleased with the course, others were less so. I spoke to a few who were disappointed to find no formal classroom settings. I’m not sure how it is advertised in Poland but many of the ‘teaching hours’ that they are promised is nothing more than us all chatting over dinner. I got the impression this wasn’t made clear when they booked.
That said, i also met plenty of participants who were on the programme for the second or third time, so it must work for them.
Whether or not the programme works for the volunteers depends on your expectation and what you hope to gain from it.
People who want to start a career teaching English overseas.
If you are interested in a TEFL career then the programme might be a good starting point. The Angloville programme would not prepare you for teaching abroad in the proper sense of the word; there was no classroom management, no lesson planning etc. However it might help give you an idea of whether it is a suitable job for you. Angloville run their own tefl courses, however if it is something that you want to continue with as a job you are better off going for a CELTA and getting a recognised qualification. Nevertheless it’s there.
I already have my CELTA and therefore wasn’t interested in their tefl course; they knew this but still promoted the course heavily to me via emails.
People who want a free/cheap holiday
You have to remember that this is a job. If you want to have a holiday then really you are better off simply having a holiday. Poland is quite cheap and you could have a mini-break for very little money, so maybe best to just do that. Whilst you are working there will be little free time and the locations are mostly in the middle of nowhere, so it is certainly not a free holiday. You can travel in between or before and after your programmes, but that will be at your own expense.
People who are living as digital nomads/ location independents
Really it depends on what kind of business you are running. If you have a setup that runs itself -dropshipping for example, or selling books you’ve already written on Kindle – then yes this could work. However if you need to respond to enquiries in a timely manner or get writing done to a deadline, or teach online classes at a specific time of day then no; you are unlikely to get enough free time for this to work.
Did it work for me?
The reasons I went on this programme were twofold: firstly, I wanted a cheap trip. I could have just booked myself a long weekend in Krakow, but I’ve said many times that there’s more to travel than simply visiting a city. Travel is learning about different cultures; without that it’s just me wandering around a city looking at stuff. That is not what I mean when I talk about how much I love to travel.
Secondly, since settling back in the UK I have been trying to get some kind of part-time job, to take the guesswork out of how much I earn with my various freelance projects. Now I am finally back in a country where I can legally work for an employer I have been looking for a job. Except you need a previous employer reference, which is hard to get when you haven’t worked for an employer since 2012. Angloville promised me a reference at the end of it.
Did it provide me with what I wanted?
On the first count, yes. I met some fascinating people and learned a lot. Participants (and volunteers for that matter) come from a wide range of backgrounds and there is always something new to learn about. If you’re interested in hearing about Polish rap music, then I’m your woman.
On the second count, no. Angloville persistently refused to acknowledge any request for a reference after I got back, leaving both me and my (potential) employer frustrated and resentful. I have had to take on another voluntary job now at Brighton Fringe Festival, in order to get what they promised me.
In order to ensure that you will do what you say you will and actually turn up, Angloville takes a returnable deposit of €99. I understand this is a relatively new development, brought about by too many volunteers failing to turn up.
On returning home I tried numerous times to get my deposit refunded, only to be repeatedly ignored.
Only when I started commenting on their social media posts did I finally get a response from them, and the deposit was eventually returned. It took five weeks. As always, the quickest way to the heart of a company is through Social Media.
I note now that they are offering me the opportunity to return without paying the deposit.
Angloville is not a charity; they make money on these courses and their whole business model is built on the basis of employing as few people as possible and making up the shortfall with volunteers. If you want to encourage people to volunteer for you, then you need to offer them something.
I arrived back feeling very positive about the whole experience, however the trouble they have put me to, writing constant emails and being ignored, has just left a nasty taste in my mouth. Combined with the reference that hasn’t materialised it unfortunately somewhat soured the whole experience.
However, as I said, it does depend on your individual circumstances and what you are looking for.
Having said all that, I would do it again. I wouldn’t hand over the deposit again, but I would consider another week, possibly at the end of the summer.