Telling a group of Hungarian students that one of the traditional ways of cooking food in your country is to bury it in a pit with coals is an excellent way to grab their attention. Getting them to talk, that’s the challenge when you’re new. They’re all curious and lively, sometimes alarmingly so, but a little on the shy side when it comes to speaking English. Telling them about something odd or unusual is a great way to break the ice. I learnt this on my first day of teaching.
Bankfalva is a village school outside of Csíkszereda. I was teaching a wide range of ages, from 6 – 14 years old, which also meant a wide range of English abilities. The young ones are predictably cute, the juniors the liveliest of the lot (I always prepared myself with more caffeine on those days) and the seniors, not surprisingly, more capable of understanding me. The first lesson for each class was an introduction to me and my home country of New Zealand, and all I can say is be prepared for random questions! After that I asked the teachers I worked with what was happening with the next lesson and prepared in the afternoon for the next day. Daily routines, weather, time and the five senses were some of the topics we covered, which gave me a lot of scope for material. The teachers I worked with were really supportive, making sure that I had what I needed and was comfortable in the class. I really enjoyed using games to teach. They are a great way to cement new vocabulary or to revise words already taught. If you can add an element of competition to it even better. One particular relay game involved a lot of running across the classroom, and on reflection probably should have been done outside J The kids got into it so much it’s a miracle they didn’t bash heads or trip over the furniture.
My main aim was to get the kids to speak English, even little bits and pieces. It helped to say a few words in Hungarian. If I made a fool of myself, they’d be more willing to try my language. The results were a mash up of surprise, delight, and hilarity. Accompanied by dubious drawings, a group of students and I spent some time thinking the other person put cockroaches on their pizza before eventually being saved by the sometimes helpful Google translate.
So, lessons learned and things discovered. Learn about the students and their world and they will get involved. Classes are run at a higher volume and with more interruptions than often seen in other countries so be prepared to be active. Check with your support teachers about what they are doing, it will make your prep work a lot easier. Lastly, enjoy the time. If you enjoy it, they’ll enjoy it, and it won’t even feel like work.
And when you’re not working? Walking, touring and trying all the local goodness. There’s a lot see and plenty that I packed in to the three weeks I was here. Road tripping with the other volunteers to see the stunning Peles Castle, Rasnov Citadel, the medieval town of Sighisoara, Fagaras and Prejmer.
A day trip to Brasov was packed with sightseeing, a bit of shopping and taking advantage of the many outdoor dining areas which sprawl all over the pavement. I was also lucky enough to be in Csikszereda when the annual Pentecost pilgrimage happened and hundreds of thousands of people gathered in the neighbouring village of Csiksomlyo. Walking with them, hearing the songs and bells and seeing everyone gather on the hill at Csiksomlyo was definitely a highlight.
People ask, ‘Would you come back?’ Short answer? ‘Yes.’ Long answer? ‘ Hell yes.’