Jessamine was a Lattitude volunteer in Poland, and assisted in a school as an English “Language Coach”.
What made you want to volunteer in Poland?
In 2015, a Lattitude volunteer came to my high school to tell us about his short trip to China as a Language Coach. I collected a small Lattitude booklet (which I still have) with the placement details of potential host countries. I became interested undertaking overseas volunteering after finishing high school.
I decided to volunteer in Poland because I had the opportunity to be immersed in a new country for an extended period of time. There are many wonderful things about Poland: the beautiful nature (beaches, mountains, forests… even sand dunes), exposure to a new language, delectable foodstuffs, its central location in Europe, affordable currency, and of course, meeting some great Polish people!
What happened when you first arrived?
During orientation, the volunteers were taught about different classroom activities and general life in Poland. We learnt about problems Polish people may experience while learning English as a second language, refreshed our English grammar knowledge, and practised some games to help improve students’ pronunciation. We were also familiarised with transport systems in Poland, learnt how to order Polish food, and who to contact if we have any problems.
Walk us through a day as a volunteer in Poland.
07:30 – Wake up. Change into every woollen garment I own. Quick ‘good morning’ as host family rush to work and school. Eat sandwiches and yogurt for breakfast.
08:15 – Take the bus or walk to school (remembering my USB for class presentations).
08:55 – Turn up at first class. Teacher will probably ask me to have a presentation or take 1-5 students for conversation activity outside. Repeat till lunchtime.
11:30 – Main meal in cafeteria plus unlimited soup, and sweet tea provided. If I got lucky, it would be barszcz beetroot soup and kopytka lumplings on the same day.
12:00-14:00 – Classes with presentations, smaller group activity, sometimes helping classrooms teachers or marking tests.
14:30 – Arrive home. Either relax until host family (I was blessed to have had three host families who I adore) arrive home & spend the evening talking and watching old family videos. Or, meet other volunteers in the cafes or parks!
23:00 – Finish hanging out with host family- shower, get ready for bed.
23:30 – Don’t go to bed. Instead prepare any required materials for the next day, message folks back home, or scroll through cool pics on photo roll.
00:30 – Think about your house on the other side of the world and the great Polish food you want to try next.
01:00 – Fall asleep.
How did you cope with the differences between Poland and home?
Many Polish people had a good understanding of English. Sometimes we would play games, show interesting pictures or ask easy questions to build their confidence. Communicating with grandparents was always the most fun though!
I’d say there were many small differences rather than obvious ones. For example in Poland the streets look different (nicer), they have a faster more stressed pace of life, and there were more public holidays & events because of their long history.
The local Poles were generally frantically busy, running around to different sport training, music practice, spontaneous meetups, hosting volunteers… all in between their long working hours!
Did you travel much?
Volunteering in Poland was my first solo trip. I loved seeing the sights of Poland, and also enjoyed travelling to Czech Republic, Hungary, Ireland, France, Scotland, the Netherlands, and England. I also passed through Germany three times, Slovakia twice, and Austria, if that counts 😉
While in Poland, I got hooked on beetroot soup, bigos, cabbage & mushroom pierogi, strawberry pasta, forest fruit tea, pickles, and kopytka… and the ice-cream…
Some highlights would have been arriving at the school which had the Australian flag up, the teachers were super friendly & helpful, I was invited on the school’s Erasmus exchange week to the Netherlands, cafe hopping with other volunteers in Tricity, having a blast at English Splash camp, horse riding in a beautiful forest central Poland, finding tiny pieces of amber on Sopot beach, travelling with my mentor & her 2 sons in Poland & London, the bike trip with my host family South Poland, hilarious Easter with my first host family, and all the birthday dinners where I barely understood anything besides the first stanza of Sto Lat.
It was nice seeing the moment students realise they can in fact speak English with a native speaker after studying for so long! 🙂
Tell us about any new friends or connections you made.
Golly gosh. Of course I had my Lattitude coordinator and mentor; my primary connections were my three host families and other 2 volunteers in the Tricity. I met many great people through the school, volunteers’ host families, exchange programmes, tutoring, friends of host families, travelling in hostels, English camp, & weekend trips with volunteers from other cities.
What were you able to do in your downtime?
I liked seeing what my host families normally do (e.g going for forest runs in the snow, watching old family videos), and us volunteers caught up at cafes and Old Town as often as we could. Sopot, Molo and the Gdańsk old town were top spots for an afternoon out.
Can you give examples of any personal development you may have gained?
Spending sometimes hours a day doing class presentations, I definitely got over my fear of public speaking! I also know I’m capable of independent travel, budgeting, and bumping my way through non-English speaking countries.
While overseas I enjoyed languages and would like to do a Bachelor of Languages next year. I enjoyed English and writing in high school, but had lacked the confidence to pursue learning another language. After travelling and picking up a little Polish, I can see it’s not too late to pursue learning a language.
Volunteer in Poland with Lattitude! Click here to find out more!