APASS: Main Page — FAQ: 1. Main questions / 2. Emailed questions / 3. Some advice for camp leaders

APASS FAQ 2: Emailed questions

How scary was it overall actually teaching the kids?

It's much nicer than teaching in the UK because most of the kids want to be there. That's not to say they won't try to skive off doing things, but the English staff tend to be viewed positively — whereas the Polish staff have the less fun job of shepherding them around when visiting places, enforcing dorm curfews and generally maintaining order. Because there's a mix (11-18, potentially) the older ones predictably don't like being kept to the same bedtime hours as younger ones, and teenagers will be teenagers.

I'd say it's scarier for the kids than it is for those standing in front, as they're away from home and surrounded by new people. It encourages everyone to make the most of it.

Did you have any teaching experience at all before you went over there?

I've done the first year of a PGCE course (currently taking time out to do other things) which certainly helped, but everyone else doing undergrad stuff had no problems. It's not a formal situation. One girl I taught with was 17 and just out of college. (And my sister reminds me that she was at college and still had A-Levels to go at the time...)

Because APASS aim to send groups of twenty to help teach a camp of a hundred, that breaks down into ten groups of ten with two English staff per group — so you're unlikely to be teaching on your own unless someone's ill for a day (more likely by the end of camp; drink lots of Vitamin C before you go out there and you'll fend off more colds...)

I did end up teaching on my own for the first few days because we didn't have quite the full twenty, and because it made most sense to put the bottom two groups with the two of us there who had teaching qualifications. We ended up merging the groups, there were still people travelling out to join the staff, and there's some flux of students (a few leave, a few join, etc.) I think it finished with a group of 17 being taught by three of us.

If that all sounds a bit ad hoc as far as organisation goes, it usually is from what our group leader told me about other camps she'd been on. Nothing that causes a problem.

Was the whole thing well  organised — i.e the trips, your accommodation and any support you needed with the teaching or anything else?

It depends what you mean by well-organised; in the sense of knowing what you'd be doing from one hour to the next, expect to be flexible. There was a basic schedule, the Polish staff we worked with were very helpful with finding resources (eg, craft sessions, washing-line to dry things) and many of them spoke a bit of English so it wasn't as if we were reliant on our translator(s) all of the time. Plus the kids were very helpful.

My sister remembers the below being the breakdown of a day; each individual camp may have its own schedule, but things are usually divided into morning and afternoon activities with the former being in a classroom and the latter being sports, games or IT.

08:30 — Breakfast
09:00 — Students and staff get together to give any notices
09:15 — First lesson
11:15 — Morning break
11:30 — Second lesson
12:30 — Lunch
02:00 — Afternoon activity
03:30 — Free time

As far as teaching goes, think back to foreign language lessons at secondary school. Roleplays, writing adverts, drama games; do anything which those you're teaching enjoy and allows them to practise their English. They can do grammar work at any time during the school year, but with you there they have a native speaker to correct pronunciation and give tips.

Since I was one of only two people with any type of UK teaching qualification there, I ended up taking the second-to-bottom group on my own and consequently spent the first couple of days speaking quite slowly for clarity, drawing things on the board with chalk and giving them vocabulary to play quizzes and write about places with. Most of it was cementing what they already knew but didn't necessarily feel confident using in conversation. When I felt they'd had enough, we spent the rest of the morning playing circle number games and Simon Says. Three hours is quite a while (even with a break) and you'll want to switch around between a few activities in that time.

There's generally a lot of discretion as to what you do; lots of groups spent time outside, visited town, etc. Part-way through the morning teaching block, we'd swap groups (eg, groups 9/10, 7/8 and so forth) to give kids and staff some variation.

Afternoon activities were a couple of hours (again, switching mid-way) where small groups of us would lead something we had an interest in or could cover; Zofia did board games, Ben/Rob did drama, I did computing, some other did sports, Sally/Jenny did art and cooking, Chris/Jane/Alexis did Scottish country dancing, etc. We did swap teaching roles, otherwise it could have become a bit repetitive. Computing isn't bad because you can get them to look things up in English and the weaker-ability students can browse in Polish and report back to class later, you can go round and talk one-to-one, etc.

What did you get to do in your spare time? Those trips round the country they organise sound pretty amazing.

Personally I sat around, swapped books with people who'd brought them, chatted with anyone who was around, and occasionally wandered in town with groups of people to buy pizza or ice-cream. Some people went out, but nobody missed any teaching due to.

The trip at the end was a bit mixed; we had really good tour guides for Auschwitz, the salt mines and Warsaw, and a really annoying one for going up to the mountains and lakes in the Zakopane area. I'd have been happy spent most of the week in Krakow, which is lovely. APASS spend several hundred pounds per English staff member on the tour, which is their way of attracting teaching staff — paying volunteers directly would necessitate full working visas. Meals and activities are provided on both camp and the tour, and you get "pocket money" cash at the end of the teaching block (£30-50, which goes a longer way in the Polish economy than it would in other parts of Europe.)

To a large extent the tour will depend on how well you get on with the Polish staff leading it, and with the people you've been on camp with. I can't say I had any major complaints; there's a bit of venting in blog entries, but the high points far outweighed.

Our group also organised a weekend trip to Prague the second weekend we were on camp in Nysa, since we were within travelling distance — that was extremely cool.

Oh yeah, and what about the other volunteers, did you get lots of time to chat and do things socially with them as well?

There was a real range of personalities; most of us went out for drinks the first evening we were there as a bonding session. This is possibly not the most intelligent thing to do on your first evening in a foreign country after a two-day coach journey (we wouldn't have done it in Warsaw, whereas Nysa is a small and generally very friendly town) but it went well — if you're not a particularly social person (I'm not) it's worth throwing yourself into getting to know people during the first few days.

Also I wondered what you did about taking money with you. I know they'd give you some money when you work, but how much do you think it's a good idea to take out there with you, for like buying a few basics and souvenirs, nothing extravagant!

Nysa isn't a particularly large place, but town still had a small handful of cash-points... my suggestion would be to carry some ready cash and a card with Maestro/Switch. You don't want to be carrying too much cash in any country. (Apparently traveller's cheques can be tricky to convert, so a card plus some cash is probably the best solution.)

Poland is now part of the EU, but the tentative date for effective currency switch is apparently 2007 [note from the future: it still hasn't happened yet, in 2008]. Banks or post offices in the UK may have to order in Zloty notes, so give them a bit of notice. Your bank may run a commission-free deal for students.

There are also usually many small money-changing facilities (Kantors, I believe they're called) which will change GBP or Euros into Zloty for a minimal fee. If you use these, have your translator or someone with you who knows what Polish banknotes look like.

Don't forget to take a bit of cash in Euros (nothing much — just to get snacks whilst you're on the coach on the way out and back, whether you stop in France or in Germany — plus most public conveniences in Europe have a small coin fee for use.)

I really didn't spend much in Poland; my outgoings probably broke down to:

— a few snacks or ice-creams on afternoon excursions and postcards
— drinks if we went out for the evening (not that often in my case)
— pizza if we felt like a change from camp food
— souvenirs on tour (a sword, various gifts for people)
— food on tour (only if we broke off from the planned day's activities)

We did get pizza quite a lot, which I think was somewhere in the region of £3 for a decent size margherita with onion. Fast food places are fairly expensive (and tend to cluster in big cities) whereas "milk bars" and small cafes away from big tourist areas are really good value. Depending on where you end up, they'll also be used to tourists with little Polish, although they'll be more used to tourists speaking German than English. Just carry a phrase book, smile lots and try traditional dishes!

Unless you're strongly vegan or vegetarian, in which case hang around with people who can translate menu entries for you.

Alcohol again varies depending on whether you're in a city or smaller town, but is likely to be much closer to £1 a pint than £2. If you like vodka, a "house" flavour will be cheap — the average monthly wage is in the region of £300. Tobacco is very cheap compared to the heavily taxed prices in the UK — under a pound for decent cigarettes. Incidentally, most beer comes closer to lager than what I'd call beer.

Clothes, transport rental / hotel accommodation (which you won't need, that's all sorted for you) and stuff that isn't "native" (eg, foreign brands) tends to be expensive — as are publications in English apart from guide books, if you can even find them. Music is similar to UK prices, and therefore quite expensive for Poles (~£10 for a CD. Tapes are still quite popular.) Electronics are fairly expensive; take some batteries and film with you if you're a camera or portable music liking person.

Try to avoid flashing cash; in cities because tourists are easy targets, and in smaller towns because you wouldn't want to embarrass anyone.

The most expensive region of Poland is probably Warsaw (which also doesn't have a great deal in it — it's been rebuilt in the time since Nazi occupation.) Krakow is a student town, so it has tourist parts and friendly cheapness. Zakopane is another tourist town, but lots of competition keeps prices sensible except in the main streets. All activities on the tour portion of the month were pre-booked as far in advance by APASS as possible, then the Polish staff running the tour got a budget per-head for food and miscellaneous activities. (And if you visit Krakow, souvenir prices are generally cheaper inside the Hall of Cloth than from stalls outside the castles — browse around a bit before buying. Great place.)

Other general stuff taken from various email replies...

Some parts of society are conservative by British standards, and particularly the elder portion gravitates towards Roman Catholicism. This may explain why Poland's twin music exports are hip-hop (equivalent of 'trendy' music here) and death metal (equivalent of 'goth' here.) Poles tend to marry young (for example, I'm not sure how typical our afternoon translator was, but he was divorced, taught English in the school we were staying in, and used to front a band called God In Ruins singing in English.)

Meals tend to follow the pattern: light breakfast, mid-morning snack, afternoon main meal, light supper. Tea's usually served with lemon.

Overall, it was a really good experience. It's mildly scary being in a country you speak none of the language of, but you'll find you pick up a bit. It's a nice CV piece, and likely to be enjoyable if you can think on your feet and take it as it comes. It's also very rewarding to see how much progress some of your students will make in three weeks.

For instance, whilst in theory the kids get on these camps by being recommended by their schools for being good at English, one girl in our group had never formally studied the language at all... she did listen to and watch a lot of American music and TV, though, and by the end was more confident than most of the rest of the group.

Are there any Polish languages camps in the UK?

Not that I'm aware of, but you could try asking The Federation of Poles in Great Britain.