Teaching English by the Poolside

Published

Haymon Rahim

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Having gotten my TEFL qualification last summer but unable to find a job that didn’t overlap with the academic year, I was forced to put off any such pursuits until this summer. Since then I have taught in two distinctly different teaching environments; the first of which was at a spa resort in Poland (yes, you read correctly) with an organisation called Angloville. I found the ad on the TEFL jobs bulletin and, naturally, jumped at the chance.

Navigating to Angloville’s website, I am immediately met with a Mark Twain quote, imploring one to ‘Catch the wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.’ Alluring language is used throughout, giving the promise of a ‘unique’ and ‘invaluable’ experience. Angloville describes itself as ‘a leading provider of language immersion programs in Poland […] enabling language and cultural exchange between native English speakers and Polish participants.’ As an English speaker, the goal is to assist Polish participants in improving their English. How is this achieved? By chatting to them. No worksheets, no grammar lessons. Just straight up conversation. While the program is voluntary, in exchange you get a free stay in one of Angloville’s ‘beautiful venues with full board and much more.’ After completing the program, I could say with candour the above is an adequate summary, the ‘much more’ part included.

I applied for a place on Angloville in January, was contacted in April and offered a place on a program in June. In the interim, I had become a little skeptical; it all sounded a bit too good to be true. But between applying and being accepted, I had accepted another teaching position that commenced in July, and decided that Angloville would be a sound preliminary to my debut in the realm of teaching English. As a result, I decided to attend.

Participants were instructed to make their way to Warsaw, from where we would be picked up in a small car park behind the Zlote Tarasy mall and taken to the venue. A day before the pickup was made, English participants were given a tour of Warsaw. My skepticism was certainly piqued by the fact that I would be picked up from a secluded location, and I therefore saw the tour as a chance to scope out the environment, as well as meet and confer with my peers on this program. Our guide spoke of the Polish uprising, told us tales from the communist era and of the state of Poland in the present day. We visited landmarks such as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the largely reconstructed Old Town before being taken for lunch. My concerns were quelled after this; the other participants seemed friendly and equally inquisitive, and one who was partaking in his third Angloville gave me some assurance of the program’s legitimacy.

With our ages ranging from early 20’s to late 50’s, there was a clear variance in both our experience and motivation among the native English speakers. Some of had done TEFL, others were linguistics students, a few were teachers back home. Many (like myself) were teaching greenhorns, Angloville being the first time we would put our own teaching into practice. There were a number of travellers who had been invited through their couchsurfing profiles, my roommate James was a prime example. Having been couchsurfing in Iran before arriving in Warsaw, his choice to attend Angloville was one of spontaneity. Merging teaching skills with an ad-libbed journey, his next destination was undecided (it would ultimately be Berlin). Meanwhile, Howard – a former stand-up comedian – was partaking in his 18th Angloville in as many months. Others were simply looking for a change of pace, Angloville marking the beginnings. Our motley crew had an array of ages and a plethora of experiences, which made for an interesting week.

The following morning, both English and Polish participants were picked up by bus. In total there were 17 English speakers and 16 Polish participants, and each group also had a coordinator respectively. While waiting, I remember another veteran of the program telling me that our group would have bonded closely by the end of the week, again inciting my curiosity. After the fact, I’d say this was a fairly accurate assertion. We were transported 2 hours East of Warsaw to Zabuze, a village in the Mazovia province by the Belarusian border. The surrounding scenery was that of the Bug River National Park’s peaceful countryside. Sessions were typically one-on-one and lasted an hour, and the working day ended with an entertainment hour after dinner. Meals were included in our shifts; we were simply encouraged to keep a balanced ratio of Polish to English participants at each table. We were each paired up with a Polish participant, and given the task of mentoring them while they prepared an end of week presentation. During sessions our options were plentiful; we could chat by the pool, over a coffee or while walking in the park. Even over a game of ping-pong if we so wished. There were just two distinct rules: to be on time, and to speak only in English. Besides that, the program was considered ‘a kind of working holiday’ by its organisers.

The venue itself was a spa resort, comprised of an impressive country house, and three smaller, but equally fanciful lodging houses. I had the fortune of staying in the much desired, prophetically labelled ‘bro house’ – a quaint two storey cabin overlooking a river, on the other side of which stands the aforementioned border. I shared with three fellow native English squires, while everyone else was placed in one of the other three retreats. Most nights English and Polish speakers alike would gather at our abode, and a merry time would be had by all.

The Polish participants (PP’s, as the introductory brochure dubbed them) were mostly middle aged, and had enjoyed considerable success in their respective careers. The program is not cheap for them, and some are placed on it by their employers. As someone who doesn’t consider myself particularly sociable, sessions were mostly a breeze. It was common that a PP had much better English than they realised, and for them it was simply a matter of getting comfortable speaking the language. Understandably, they found it tough, not being allowed to talk amongst themselves in their native tongue (I’m pretty sure they violated this when we weren’t around), and also being so used to success, yet being nigh on patronised by a 20-something. There were also instances where communication was quite challenging, but all this required was patience and partiality to animation, which often transformed into humour, enjoyed on both sides.

So what’s the catch? Amidst drunken hubbub which saw some surprising hookups (cough, infidelity), the program resultantly felt at times almost like a cringeworthy reality TV show (minus ubiquitous surveillance and depressingly keen audience). Also, the amount of conversing had slightly taken its toll on me by the end of the week, having reached my threshold of talking with an ear-to-ear smile. But in fairness, neither had a profoundly negative impact on the week. And outside of that, there really is no catch. Angloville introduced me to wealth of interesting people from irreducibly different walks of life. I had fascinating conversations with people that I probably wouldn’t engage under normal circumstances, and received a crash course in Polish culture from the PP’s. In exchange, seeing efforts manifest in their progress was endearing and gratifying. When we got back to Warsaw and said our goodbyes, I admittedly felt at a slight loss. Our unit had bonded, just as the veteran predicted.

Whether it be made a stop-off on the road or a means of broadening your repertoire, Angloville is worth giving a shot. I have been extended an open invitation, and would definitely consider returning.

For more information and applying, visit angloville.com