“Feeling intense pride and sense of freedom”

A volunteer interview with Kaylee as she looks back at her Gap Year and her role as an English Teacher in Poland, about 4 years ago.

How did you find the support you received before departure?

I did like the briefing, I was there in person. I was the only person going to Poland so that was a little overwhelming because I didn’t get to meet anyone else. The organizers did a really good job of getting all of the volunteers acquainted though which was nice. I did find that it was a bit long and an overload of information but I think that it’s hard to avoid with trips like this. 

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How was the in-country orientation?

I thought it was really good. A nice opportunity to meet the other volunteers, and get over some of the jet lag. Since the days started early and ran so long it really helped getting my sleep schedule fixed quicker. I liked all the events we did and the bit of culture we got to see. I found the TEFL course really interesting and was excited to find out one of the instructors was Canadian! I was the only Canadian in the group so he helped me feel less far from home. 

What was the accommodation like at your placement?

I stayed with the same host family for the duration of my placement. It was an interesting experience. There were three girls plus me so the parents were very busy. They were very flexible and accommodating with whatever I was doing though and I really appreciated that. It was nice to have the same “home base” for the whole placement. Some of the other volunteers got moved around a bit and I think that may have been hard for me at the time. I didn’t always get along with my host family but that’s to be expected when you live with people.

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Do you feel you made a difference at your placement?

Definitely. I jumped right into teaching, and the other teachers gave me a lot of responsibility and let me put my twist on things which meant that I got to see growth in students the whole way along. I loved working with the younger kids because since the learning was more basic it was clearer when they learned. On the other hand, though I also liked challenging the older kids because it was more challenging for me as well.  

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What was the high point of your placement?

Oh, this is a tough question! Probably the connections I made with people, even though it’s 4 years later I still talk to some of the volunteers and even some of the students from Poland. 

While I was there I remember some days just feeling this intense pride and sense of freedom. That was really incredible, I was proud of what I had done and how I was representing myself and my country. 

What was the toughest part of your placement?

The home sickness for sure. I remember sometimes feeling so frustrated because I couldn’t communicate with people on the street or in stores and I was so far from my family. I’m really glad I stuck it out though because the ups definitely outweighed the downs.

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How do you feel now that you’re home? 

I miss it, it gets easier with time but there are still some days when I get a flashback and wish I was still in Poland. I know when I first got back I must have been so annoying because I was telling everyone about my trip (I still am haha). It’s different after spending that much time in a different place but I am so thankful for the stories I have to tell and the memories I have.

What have you been up to since your return?

I am currently in my fourth year of Tourism Management at Thompson Rivers University and I love it. I think it was a great program after the trip. I also work in the residence as a community advisor (between management and the resident advisors). 

Do you have any advice you would offer to future volunteers at your placement?

Keep an open mind would be one. It’s easy to get homesick and tired and grumpy and all you want is something from home, but part of the fun is experiencing new things. Trust the mentors at your program, they usually know best and if they have some a suggestion, odds are it’s something great! Also, don’t be afraid to be yourself, bonding with the other volunteers can seem daunting but they will be your best friends and your family for the next couple of months!

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