Having graduated in modern languages, staying put after university seemed like an illogical and unappealing prospect. The quickest means of getting back out on the road was through TEFL work, which to date has taken to me mainland Spain, the Canary Islands, Romania, and now Central Europe.
As a self-confessed linguaphile, the obvious draw has been the amount of different languages I've had the chance to learn, practice, and master. Europe's incredible linguistic diversity in such a relatively small area is a paradise as far as I'm concerned, and that's without taking into account the abundance of distinct cultures that goes with it. The ability to travel just a few hours overland and experience a complete change in the way people live their lives will never get dull. In an increasingly globalised world, where places on opposite sides of the planet begin to look more and more alike, this ability has become even more precious, and is ultimately what first sent me abroad and what will continue to do so as long as I can.
Why did you choose Angloville?
I first came across Angloville when researching my options for a week off work in October 2016. At first, what they offered almost seemed to good to be true; six days in an up-market hotel somewhere in the Polish countryside, every meal provided, all for nothing than my native language in return? And to those who say there's no such thing as a free lunch, they offer exactly that (as part of a free walking tour of the programme's base city).
Despite all this, it was really the overwhelmingly positive testimonials from previous Angloville participants that swayed me. As a traveller, I've learned that people (the real, flesh-and-bones type) are by far the best source of information, so reading their glowing reviews by the hundreds I had no doubts that Angloville was exactly what it promised.
Hearing about the sheer diversity of both Polish participants and English-speaking volunteers was another key factor in my decision, in that the people you'll be talking with could be anyone from corporate executives to aspiring actors. Simply put, this was a chance to meet people I otherwise would never have the opportunity to. A swift and informative email exchange with their HQ later and I was booked to go to Poland.
What was your favorite part about Poland?
Both Wroclaw and Krakow were fascinating cities to arrive to. The Angloville walking tour gave a good overview of both places, however I wouldn't hesitate to go back to either and fully indulge in them. As the programme itself is always located one to two hours away from the base city, for me it was the areas that surrounded the Angloville venues that stole the show. The Wroclaw programme's venue was located in rolling forests in full autumn colours, whilst the Krakow one was amongst the ski slopes of the Polish Tatra mountains. Both were stunning in their own right and, like the base cities, I'd return in a heartbeat.
Aside from the locations, I have to mention the incredible hospitality I received from the Polish people during both my visits. Despite knowing them for a matter of days, they treated me and many others as friends from the get-go and we parted ways fully expecting to meet again in the future.
What made your experience abroad unique?
It sounds quite intimidating - you and a group of 30-50 strangers thrown together in a hotel somewhere in the Polish countryside for a week. But this is what sets the experience you have with Angloville apart from any other way of visiting a country. Whilst you might not be filling your days with sightseeing and museums, the insight into the country you get through the local participants is just as engrossing, if not more. I learned about Poland from people who had grown up under communism and seen their country grow into what I was experiencing there and then. Equally interesting was speaking to participants from my own generation who saw current events completely different to how I did. I was captivated hearing about the same things from the perspective of very affluent people and from those with less.
Not everyone there will be an astrophysicist or globetrotting maverick, but this diversity left an impression on me which could never be matched by a simple holiday or trip.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
The Angloville programme teams typically consist of an English-speaking coordinator and another coordinator from the programme country. I was very impressed at how approachable and visible they were, from the moment we first met up in Wroclaw and Krakow to well after their duties had finished on the last day. We got a full briefing from them upon arrival at the venue and they continued to provide useful feedback for us native speakers throughout the programme. No problem was too big or small for them to take immediate action on. It was thanks to their smooth guidance that the course ran without a hitch and was enjoyed equally by participants and volunteers.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
Very little, to be completely honest. I was told everything I wanted to know before leaving and both programmes ran flawlessly. If anything, I'd probably have liked to not take the Angloville bus back to the city on the final day, and instead explored the local area surrounding the venue. Over the course of the week, you'll learn lots about where you are but have precious little time to actually experience anything beyond the hotel grounds. Taking the bus is mandatory on the way there, but not on the way back, so you have the choice to stay behind and discover these (usually very beautiful) regions that are off the regular tourist track. After six days of bonding with the participants, it's not unusual to be offered rides to various parts of the country on the Friday afternoon, and I highly recommend taking up their offers.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
Late-risers needn't fret - the day's sessions don't start until 10 a.m. Of course there's the breakfast buffet beforehand, however you're in no way obliged to be there at a certain time (or at all, if that's your kind of thing) and you're welcome to keep to yourself until you've had your coffee.
The first few sessions are normally one-on-ones with participants, either using the provided materials or just casual chit-chat. For these 50-minute "lessons", you and your partner are free to go wherever you want and do whatever you want to do. If the hotel has a pool table, play a game of pool. If it has a an actual pool, have a swim! Obviously check what your participant would prefer - most sit and talk over a coffee or go for a short walk in the surrounding area. Before lunchtime you'll have group activities, focusing on the participant's' presentation and public speaking skills in English. These are always light-hearted and a lot of fun.
At lunch, unlike dinner, you're asked to split your table evenly between participants and natives to encourage conversation. This is an immersion course, after all. The food varies by location, but is typically very good and much better than what your average traveler would invest in. There's then a 90-minute break where everyone is free to rest, relax, and recuperate before the afternoon's sessions. Negotiation, telephone, and practical language skills get tested in the evening, along with a few more one-on-ones.
To round off the day, after dinner there's an entertainment hour, usually hosted by one of the native speakers and consisting of quizzes and games. At 9:30 p.m. the day is officially over and transitions into “social time.” which, depending on the participants on your programme, can lead to some headaches the next morning!
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
The afternoon free time usually ended up being busier than any other time of the day. If you don't go outside with your conversation partners, this will be the only chance to get out and see what's around your hotel.
On the October programme, we were situated at the bottom of a hill with a medieval castle at the top, which made for a perfect 90-minute round-trip walk through the vibrant autumn forest. In January, the deep snow and remarkable views of the High Tatras provided endless entertainment despite the sub-zero temperatures. There's always a sizeable group of participants and native speakers keen to get exploring, so I was never short of good company.
When the outside didn't appeal, there was a sauna, bar games, and, in Zakopane, a fantastic swimming pool looking out over the mountains. Many people just used the time to chill out in their rooms and simply take a break from talking - don't let the fact you'll be sitting down for the best part of the day fool you into thinking it's not tiring work. I usually joined those who were still awake after entertainment hour for a chat and a laugh over a few drinks before bed.
All in all, the free time is really the only time you'll have to bond with the other native speakers on the programme, and also a great opportunity to bond with participants in a more relaxed setting.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
Both my programme’s hotels were really high quality and well above the standard of accommodation I've become accustomed to while travelling on a budget. Angloville makes sure their venues are quite remote (namely to stop the participants running away to local bars the second their sessions finish), so wide, open surroundings and large grounds are a given.
Depending on the season you could have the chance to swim, sled, or play golf, and I know some people chose to make use of the hotel's services, such as massages and spa treatments. Volunteers shared double rooms with each other and you can choose to share yours with someone else you know. The hotels had plenty of communal areas where you can go with other participants to talk, which helps with not going stir crazy inside the same four walls all week.
The food, understandably, varies by hotel and by region, however more often than not it'll be to a very high standard and was my favourite part of the accommodation experience. The breakfast buffets were huge, both in size and variety, lunches were a three-course crash course in local cuisine, and dinners could be anything from a Polish take on fish and chips to Italian food. One thing is guaranteed; you won't go hungry.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
Most importantly, that it won't be a holiday. It can be easy to think that a week of just talking will be an easy ride for an English speaker, however this is a two-way exchange and good conversation needs to flow both ways. Although the participants want to improve their English to an everyday conversational standard, you can't simply sit yourself down and start talking to them like they're your pals in a pub.
Arriving at the hotel, they'll be miles more nervous than any of the native speakers. There's no need to be a qualified psychiatrist, but you'll have to work a bit to bring certain people out of their shell and engage them fully, which takes a lot of work. Seventy hours of conversation in one week is no mean feat!
Be aware of what's expected of you and you'll be in the best position to get everything you can out of an Angloville programme.
Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?
Despite being on the road as much as I can be, there are always certain experiences that stand out amongst the others. Angloville is definitely one of those. My time on their programmes has taught me to value the importance of communication and all the skills that go with it.
As an English-speaker, it can be easy to feel like the world is at your feet where all you have to do is hop on a plane and be greeted in your native language on the other side. This isn't the case for most of the world, and people have to dedicate their lives to studying and learning our language simply to have access to the same opportunities we do.
Meeting and engaging with these people gave me a newfound appreciation of my mother tongue, as well as overwhelming admiration for those doing what they can to master it. I firmly believe Angloville helped me improve my way of communicating with someone regardless of who they are, giving me a sense of fulfilment and pride in my work in the process.
Would you recommend Angloville to others? Why?
I wouldn't hesitate a second to recommend Angloville, as I have already done so relentlessly to both homebodies and fellow travellers alike. You don't need to be anyone in particular to enjoy this programme and that's what makes it so special. You'll leave having made a lasting mark on the lives of those who participated to improve their English, just as you'll leave having made an abundance of good friends and useful contacts. It's an exceptionally well-run organisation that I felt I could trust from start to finis., I truly expect to find myself back in their capable hands again in the near future. I'd urge anyone considering taking part to do as I did and simply let Angloville's reputation do the convincing for you.
Luke graduated with a degree in modern languages, but he is currently on a mission to see the world through TEFL work. He has worked in Spain, Romania, and the Czech Republic, exploring the majority of Europe in the process. Luke is now planning a switch to somewhere even more exotic and farther-flung.