February 2013 issue

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Good deeds

Offering an opportunity to practise language skills in a real setting and a rewarding cultural experience, language plus volunteering programmes worldwide are increasing in popularity, discovers Matthew Knott.

As Blaise Barham at Southern Lakes English College in New Zealand, which offers wildlife and conservation placements, enthuses, volunteering “helps students have a ‘real’ experience working with New Zealanders and doing something that... helps the local animals and parks. Students feel they are giving something back to the community.”

Impact English in Melbourne, Australia, specialises in childcare and education placements, and Anita Spetziale explains, “Students will volunteer as language assistants – interacting with the local children and assisting the teacher in delivering lessons,” a course ideal for those interested in Tesol. Impact students also assist in bilingual programmes, providing opportunities for local students to practise their language skills with native speakers.

In Fukuoka, Japan, Genki Japanese and Culture School offers a range of agricultural volunteer placements. “There are a large number of opportunities on farms, where participants will assist in daily farm duties – planting, tending and harvesting,” explains Evan Kirby. Interest is steady, he says, and participants tend to be European and American and aged 18-to-24 years. “Our programmes mainly [involve] looking after native animals,” relates Barham, and placements are offered at destinations including Walter Peak Tourist Farm. The volunteering options are “traditionally popular with Asian students, but I hope that they will become more popular with European students”, he adds.

In Latin America, Florencia Bullano at Coined International attests that they offer non-stop help to 120 projects across the region. “Last year, we added new destinations and projects in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Honduras and Uruguay. Our most recent development was the launch of a new Coined destination in Argentina, with opportunities for volunteering in a natural setting with whales and sea life conservation.” Programmes are popular with European and American students in particular, she attests, with global interest growing all the time.

At Montañita Spanish School in Ecuador, “All of our placements are community needs-based projects that also reflect the skills of the volunteer,” relates Manuel Bucheli, “so a volunteer could be coaching soccer on the beach in Valdivia, helping feed children at the free day care centre, performing medical exams and giving immunisations with a medical team, or feeding sick sea lions and giant turtles at the animal rescue centre.”

South Africa is a major draw for volunteering, and Bianca Obermaier at Good Hope Studies in Cape Town, advises that courses range from social/community projects to conservation and farm stays. Similarly, IH Cape Town offers humanitarian schemes such as orphan projects, care in the community and wildlife placements including penguin rescue across the country, explains Yolanda Mouton. At EC Cape Town, volunteer programmes are arranged on a participant by participant basis, informs Chris Roberts. “Students in the past have volunteered as after-school programme assistants at St Joseph’s Homes, a facility that cares for chronically ill children, as well as GCU Township Soccer, an after-school programme aimed to provide recreational activities for underprivileged children.” EC also offers volunteer programmes in five centres across the USA.

Most programmes involve a pre-placement language course, while the volunteer element gives students an opportunity to practise language skills in a real-life setting. “Our Spanish classes and volunteering balance with each other so that our students can use their work experience to bring good questions and contexts to their classes, and use their classes to improve and expand upon what they are learning on the job every day,” opines Bucheli. Many students also depart with a rewarding cultural experience and valuable career skills, as Kirby relates, “The volunteer placements tend to be rural, so it is a great opportunity to experience a more traditional Japanese way of life.” Roberts adds, “Students can build lasting relationships with English-speaking people and organisations that can help them achieve their career and academic goals.”

In conclusion, Bullano attests, “The dictionary says that to volunteer is to work on behalf of others, but when you do your bit to help people in need, everyone comes out a winner.”

A selection of language plus volunteering programmes

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ESL Townhouse  
Sara's New York Homestay LLC  
Colonias de Inmersión al Idioma.  
English Australia  
English Australia  
Calgary Board of Education  
Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology  
iMandarin Language Training Institute  
Cambridge Esol  
Camp Beaumont  
International House World Organisation  
INTO University Partnerships  
Kaplan International Colleges  
LAL Language Centres Holding Ltd  
London School of Business & Finance  
Prime Education  
St Giles International  
TUS Advertising  
University of East Anglia  
Cambridge Esol  
Office de Tourisme Montpellier  
Malta Tourism Authority  
CIAL - Centro de Linguas  
Oscars International  
EF International Language Centers  
Eurocentres International  
Malta Tourism Authority  
AHLI - American Home Life International  
Annie Wright School  
Brown University  
California State University San Marcos  
ELS Language Centers  
Felician College  
FLS International  
Forest Ridge School of the Sacred Heart  
Glenholme School  
IH Pacific (Vancouver, Whistler, San Diego)  
Liberty University  
Ross School (The)  
Saint John's University  
Sara's New York Homestay LLC  
UTP (University Track Preparation)  
University of California San Diego  
West Hills Community College  
Zoni Language Centers

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