When you think of volunteering internationally, generally Europe doesn’t come to mind. I always thought it is the orphanages and schools in third world countries, or the villages and communities in a disaster hit area that really need us, but I was wrong.
Even a developed European country like Spain needs English speakers to work as volunteers so that the natives can improve their language skills and be more competitive globally. The country of Spain has one of the highest unemployment rates in the European Union, currently at 25%. It has averaged 17% from 1987-2012, so they have not really seen any periods of boom. It is also reported that the unemployment rates among youth (under 24) is double (currently at 53%) the average unemployment rate. While this has a drastic effect on the economy of the country, it affects people’s personal and professional lives too. As a result of not having jobs, many Spaniards have to live with their parents at home and do not have enough personal space to date. The birth rate in Spain has gone down as the citizens are getting married later in life, once they are able to provide for their families. While visiting large cities Madrid and Barcelona, I noticed hundreds of young people sitting around at the plaza’s and cafe’s, dating in the metro and sometimes displaying too much passion at public places. There were also daily demonstrations on jobs, education and politics where the majority of the non-working population seemed to gather on a regular basis.
A Spaniard who can converse in fluent English generally has an edge in the job market. Companies within and outside of Spain prefer to hire individuals who have good language skills and can operate skillfully in the global market. Surely, speaking English will not solve all economic problems Spain has, but will certainly help in some ways.
While there are numerous private coaching schools in Spain, most people cannot afford to go there unless they get some sort of sponsorship. Moreover, the level of education in the schools is good for getting you to a certain points, meaning learn basic grammar and vocabulary, not to be fluent. This is where the English-speaking volunteers or Anglos come in.
The organization Vaughan Town, facilitates a learning program where the Anglos and Spaniards live together for 6 days, speaking English to each other for 10 hours every day! They have informal one-on-one conversations, group activities, presentations, conference calls and table talk over meals. Basically, the Spaniards have to live, breathe and talk in English for an extended period of time, which really helps them further their English proficiency.
People ask me “why travel all this way to volunteer in another country when you can just send in that amount of money to the cause?” This experience in Spain is a clear example of where money cannot buy skills. You could argue sending tapes or paying for teachers should solve the problem, but it is not enough. The best way to learn a language is by practicing it 24 hours a day in non threatening settings. The Anglos that volunteer at Vaughan Town are from different English speaking countries (USA, UK, Australia, Ireland) so they have diverse accents which the Spaniards have to learn to understand. It is a close representation of a real-life scenario where not everyone talks the same.