A First-Hand Experience: What to Expect When You Volunteer With GVI Laos
Interested in volunteering with GVI in Laos but not sure what to expect? Have the desire to teach English but are worried that you lack experience? Below is a piece written by recently departed volunteer George Williamson, who has kindly provided a first-hand insight in to volunteering with GVI in Luang Prabang.
Arrival, Training and Teaching
Arrival into Laos was slightly overwhelming; arriving quite late on the Friday I couldn’t really get a sense of where I’d arrived or what I’d gotten myself into. This was my first time in Asia as well as my first time doing TEFL teaching! I was met at the airport by one of the friendly GVI staff who helped me to settle in to my pre-project accommodation.
GVI really ease you into the process of teaching. On the first day, I met the rest of the volunteers and had an orientation of Luang Prabang which was great! You get a lot of free time after this initial orientation which is really good for wandering around, getting a bit lost and getting a sense of the vibe/culture in Laos. After the first day I was already starting to think I want to be here longer than 3 weeks!
Sunday and Monday were spent with our group of new volunteers doing comprehensive Introduction to TEFL Training which involved, teaching techniques, lesson planning, teaching tips and structuring a lesson. We also had a Lao lesson where the project manager only spoke to us in Lao, using all the techniques we had learnt. This allowed us to walk a mile in our students shoes and made us realize just what we’re trying to achieve and how to go about teaching English as a foreign language to non-English speakers. Initially I was fairly conscious of the fact that my only experience in front of a class was giving a 5/10 minute talk about my pet hamster or reading a short extract from a book. I was also aware of the fact that I was born in Liverpool and hence can’t pronounce any of my vowels properly. However I had nothing to worry about!
First lesson was Year 2’s on Monday evening at Xayadeth College (just down the road from the guest house) with a fellow volunteers teaching partner. This was also the first time I’ve ever been called ‘Teacher George’ which felt very weird. It was odd how quickly being presented with 30-40 students became comfortable, but all of the students are so eager to learn that teaching no longer seemed daunting. Second lesson was the following morning at the Library teaching intermediate level English to a small group of 16-18 year old Novices with an experience volunteer as my teaching partner. This class was a lot of fun. Although it was a big learning process for me teaching grammar and higher level English, my staff mentor was extremely supportive. The third lesson was at MEC alongside a Lao teacher. MEC was great for meeting a diverse range of people in Luang Prabang.
Luang Prabang and The Weekend
Luang Prabang itself is a place that’s hard not to fall in love with. There is a significant sense of sharing and giving in the community. Morning Alms and the work that goes into preparing the sticky rice or offering every single day just goes to show how selfless the community is. I found this amazing to witness and take part in.
On the weekends GVI would normally have an optional cultural experience or activity that we could all get involved with. Even though I was only in Laos for 3 weeks I got to visit a local village, do some building work and play a couple of football matches against ex-Novices/students which really helped to get immersed in the culture and feel more part of the community.
Teaching Novices in Luang Prabang is an experience that I’ll never forget. I’m already planning my next visit which will hopefully be next year doing a 6 month internship with GVI Laos. I’d like to say a massive thank you to all of the GVI staff, volunteers, guest house staff, students and everyone that I got the chance to meet and work with!
Written by Teaching Volunteer George Williamson