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 FOREIGN VOLUNTEERS TEACH ENGLISH, LEARN ABOUT UKRAINE

The English-teaching project is to help young Ukrainians practice English and develop their communication skills in a multicultural environment,and also an enriching cultural experience for young foreign volunteers.

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Image source: GoCamp Facebook page. Volunteer Ali Kemal Cetinkaya from Turkey poses for a selfie with his students during an English summer camp in the town of Volodymyr-Volynsky in Ukraine.

“I used to perceive Ukraine as a backward country: grey and industrial, Soviet, corrupt, full of cold people lacking creativity and the will to change,” says 22-year-old Laurens Soenen from Belgium, who spent two weeks in Ukraine this summer teaching English to school kids in Kharkiv and Hadiach.

“That image was completely torn to pieces during my volunteer experience there,” Soenen says.

Soenen was one of 117 volunteers from 38 countries who took part in the GoCamp project, which organized English-language summer camps for schools throughout Ukraine. For summer 2017, GoCamp is calling for 1,000 English-speaking foreigners to teach in 3-week camps for approximately 100,000 children aged 10-15, including kids from Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts who have been affected by the armed conflict in the east with Russia.

“The study process in GoCamps mainly consists of various activities, speaking clubs, and games – anything that’s different from standard lessons in school,” Iryna Gorlach, a volunteer coordinator at non-governmental organization Global Office, told the Kyiv Post.

The Global Office NGO is primarily focused on teaching foreign languages in Ukraine to foster international understanding.

Next year the program will be divided into four strands: STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics), leadership and careers, sports and health, and citizenship.

There are no strict requirements for becoming a short-term volunteer. One must be at least 18 years old, speak English fluently, and submit an application form before Jan. 31, 2017. This creates room for diversity, as literally any foreigner who is enthusiastic to work with kids can participate in the GoCamp program.

Soenen liked the idea of bringing foreign volunteers to Ukraine to promote intercultural exchange, as a lot of Ukrainians are not able to travel abroad.

Mutual benefit

Although the main objective of the project is to help young Ukrainians practice English and develop their communication skills in a multicultural environment, it’s also an enriching cultural experience for the young foreign volunteers.

GoCamp volunteers from Europe, South and North America, Asia gave similar impressions. Most of them had known little to nothing about Ukraine, and had had quite a negative perception of the country based on stereotypes, international media coverage, and the country’s Soviet legacy. Others had taken courses on Ukrainian politics or Eastern European history at their universities, and wanted to enhance their knowledge.

Lucas van Opstal, 28, a philosophy graduate from the Netherlands, felt a personal responsibility to contribute to Ukraine in a small way after the disappointment of the Dutch referendum in April, when the country rejected the ratification of the EU’s Association Agreement with Ukraine.

Similar to his fellow volunteers, he said the best part of his short stay was interacting with ordinary Ukrainians and witnessing how they remained optimistic and creative, despite living in worse conditions.

“This experience taught me more about the Ukrainian mindset: how welcoming people are there, and how much they love their food and to share it with people,” Opstal said.

“I loved the healthy sense of humor that Ukrainians have, even about the direst political subjects. I had not experienced this before and I was impressed by the resilience of the Ukrainian spirit.”

Another nice surprise was meeting with the President Petro Poroshenko, whom Opstal called “a funny guy,” and exploring Ukraine’s vibrant art scene.

“I went to Kirovohrad for a week and found so many art galleries around the city. I feel like there were so much art in Ukraine, and it was everywhere,” said Opstal, while pledging to come back.

British student James Whittingham, 24, also said he had a stronger interest in Ukraine after visiting the country, and meeting locals who “were all friendly, hospitable, and enthusiastic.”

English as a common requirement

Since the EuroMaidan Revolution in 2014, Ukraine has become more Western-leaning, and the English language is useful in achieving European integration. As the country undergoes a series of reforms required by the International Monetary Fund and the European Union, the government has committed to reorganizing Ukraine’s education system as well.

From this year, all future university professors will have to have published papers in international academic journals, and meet a minimum English language requirement not lower than B2 level under the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. According to website VoxUkraine, as a result, the number of people awarded the title of professor dropped from 1,119 in 2015 to only 16 in 2016, and only 5 people obtained an assistant professorship, compared to 4,589 people last year.

According to 2015 English Proficiency Index, Ukraine is ranked 34th among 70 countries. The authors of the study pointed to the importance of English skills for innovation and raising the quality of life in any country.

“Today, English proficiency is less associated with the elite, and it is not as closely tied to the U.S. or the UK as it once was,” the report states. “Instead, English is becoming a basic skill for the entire global workforce. In countries where English is not an official language, the ease of doing business closely correlates with the strength of English skills.”

By Bermet Talant, The Kyiv Post
 
 
 
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