As I made my way across Charles Bridge on a bright but frosty morning in Prague, I felt a rush of excitement at what the week ahead had in store for me. I’d signed up for a 6 day volunteer project in the Czech Republic teaching English (I’m using term “teach” very very lightly here), and I couldn’t wait to start.
I was no stranger to programmes such as this one – I’d actually done a few similar ones in Poland (which you can read about here), but this was my first time working with Angloville and I was looking forward to seeing just how their programmes differed from the company I was used to.
So what exactly is Angloville?
Well, Angloville is a company that provides people with the opportunity to become fully immersed in the English language for anywhere between 2-9 days. Participants wanting to improve their English stay in fancy hotels around Europe with native speakers who give their time in exchange for free accommodation and food.
However, Angloville isn’t a school. There are no classrooms, textbooks or lectures on grammar. There are just conversations. Lots of them.
For a few hours each day, volunteers and participants talk in casual “one-to-one” settings – think speed dating, but less awkward.
Mealtimes are spent together, as are evenings, when people are free to choose whether to take part in the nightly entertainment activities or get to know each other better over a few beers in the hotel bar (you can guess where I spent my nights).
For those of a more athletic persuasion, there are early morning yoga lessons and running clubs (or so I’m told – of course I never attended these myself so I have not seen any proof).
Sounds pretty good, right?
The day before every programme, Angloville arrange a meet-up that acts as a way for the volunteers to explore the city and get to know their fellow native speakers. This is how, on that freezing Saturday morning, I wound up on a free walking tour of Prague, before going to a cosy restaurant for tomato soup and a large portion of chicken with smoked ham, cheese and potatoes (paid for by Angloville, thanks guys ✌).
As is always the case with these programmes, everybody was absolutely lovely and after we’d finished eating, a couple of my fellow native speakers and I ended up in Lokal Dlouhaaa drinking mulled wine, which is definitely not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon in Prague, especially if you’re a borderline alcoholic like me (joking, sort of).
The following afternoon I found myself checking into the beautiful EA Zamecky Hotel, Hrubá Skála, and from the moment I stepped foot inside, I knew that it was going to be an incredible week.
I was sharing a room with Steph, who I’d actually met two weeks prior on a previous course (with the company mentioned above). Our room had two comfortable beds, a fully stocked mini-bar, fluffy white bathrobes, and even chocolates on the pillows! Although some of the Czech and Slovak participants later questioned whether or not the hotel deserved its 4 Star status, I couldn’t be happier – 4 Star or not, EA Zamecky is certainly a far cry from the 10 person dorm rooms I’ve been staying in for the past couple of years!
After marvelling at the jaw-dropping views over the sweeping landscapes of Hrubá Skála (and making sure our Instagram followers knew just how happy we were), we made our way downstairs where lunch was served, followed by coffee, cake and an ice-breaker session where the native speakers got a chance to properly converse with the Czech and Slovak participants for the first time.
As is always the case on programmes such as Angloville, I found myself surrounded by intelligent, successful and fascinating people. Sitting between a fashion designer and a doctor who specialises in Chinese medicine, I felt humbled and eager to learn more about the people that I’d be spending the next week with. There was even a movie producer in attendance, for heaven’s sake!
My first one-to-one session was with a Czech girl named Gabriela, who would later become my mentee. As her mentor, it was my job to help her prepare a 5-10 minute presentation, in English, which she would have to perform to the entire group at the end of the week.
With only a little guidance from me, Gabriela prepared a fascinating presentation about 3D-printing, and it was incredible to see her standing in front of 40 people talking about prosthetic limbs, jet engines and the future of this cutting-edge technology with confidence in a language that wasn’t her own.
However, it wasn’t only Gabriela that left me speechless. Over the course of 6 days, I got a chance to speak with some of the most interesting and inspirational people that I have ever had the chance of meeting. Take Zuzana, who set up her own organisation to help the homeless, or Anya, who may well be the most talented 20 year old I know (I could list her many skills but I’d be here all night). Then there’s Edita, who made the brave decision to travel to Syria earlier this year to visit her family, and Petr, who won the European Yoga Championships.
Every day, every hour, the gap between the Czech/Slovak participants would narrow as we shared stories over coffee and enjoyed long walks in the forest. The participants not only improved their English skills, but their confidence also, and after the presentations were finished on Thursday afternoon, we proceeded to have a beautiful night full of dancing, Champagne, and the cheesiest music I’ve listened to all year.
(I also won a pub quiz that night, which isn’t relevant at all, but hey, it was the highlight of my week so it’s getting included.)
So, would I recommend Angloville?
Angloville was an absolutely fantastic experience for me. The hotel was amazing, the food was great and I had a huge grin on my face for the entire week. What I didn’t make in money, I made up for in experience (lame but true), and I would work with Angloville again in a heartbeat (2018 look out).
The men and women who I got to know have started businesses, travelled the world, and in some cases, battled terrible illnesses. In many ways, they have nothing in common with one another, and certainly nothing in common with us, the backpackers lured in by the promise of a free hotel and some stability for a week.
However, for 6 days, everybody is united by one thing – the desire to speak English. At Angloville, the millionaire CEO is no better than the 20-something bartender. Cultural and social divides are smashed as everybody comes together and enjoys their time in this strange and magical little place that seems so far away from reality.
The only (teeny tiny) word of warning that I have for those interested in volunteering is that Angloville is not a free holiday. The participants are paying a lot of money for an intensive learning experience, and while the one-to-one sessions are casual in nature, you are still expected to be on time and put in the same amount of effort as you would with any other job.
As ridiculous as it sounds, being animated and keeping up conversation for 12+ hours a day is exhausting (especially if the participants have a fairly low level of English), and it’s definitely not for everyone.
That said, after the first couple of days it gets a lot easier and despite how emotionally draining it can be at times, it is 100% worth it and I absolutely cannot wait to do more programmes with Angloville in the future.
Have you ever volunteered with Angloville? How were your experiences? Perhaps you’ve worked on similar programmes with different companies – which ones? Share your experiences with me in the comments below!
For more information about how you can volunteer with Angloville, just click here!