Teaching English at Fantasy Camp Belarus

I believe spending time on social media is a waste of time. So I tried to limit the time I’m online and specifically on social media because I think there are a thousand better ways to spend it. But, here comes the but, sometimes you get to learn about things and know people exactly from social media. That’s how I learned about the Fantasy Camp, an English language camp in Belarus, and about their need for volunteer teachers.

While reading the post on a Facebook group by the camp’s volunteer recruiter Masha, I just knew that I’m up for it and I wanted to teach English to kids in Belarus in the upcoming summer.

Fantasy Camp, Belarus

So I put together a CV to can apply for the camp and then they called me for an interview. I remember sitting in a small cafe in Sofia, being super excited about the upcoming interview. We spoke for more than half an hour and I must have done good because the interviewer Masha officially welcomed me to the Fantasy Camp at the end of the interview.

Each summer they have three or 4 shifts in every Fantasy Camp. I chose the first shift in summer 2019 which lasted 18 days. We were a mix of 10 to 12 foreign volunteers coming from literally all sorts of different places worldwide with different backgrounds, different aspirations, and different experiences. What united us was the willingness to work with kids, have fun, and make memorable experiences.

So within the first hour of setting foot within the Kupalinka campsite premises, I felt this teaching experience will be something special. We were assigned different groups or teams of kids. Teams were created based on the age of the kids and I was the lucky one to teach the youngest or the yellow team. The whole camp consisted of a total of 160 kids and more than 30 educators, teachers, and helpers. I attended lessons of other teams as well but the most important thing is that we had so much informal time together – just chatting and playing so I guess it was super beneficial for anyone who was willing to interact and connect with me and the other foreign volunteers.

What was even more fascinating is that everyone could find their place, everyone could fit even in an organization and setup that huge! All the different foreign volunteers had zero to plenty of experience teaching English – some were school teachers or ESL teachers, others had years of experience living in foreign countries and speaking English, there were even students of literature or pedagogy. Everyone could contribute something useful and helpful for the kids. And that doesn’t even begin to describe the magic of putting together such a mix of different people in the Fantasy Camp.

Most of our days started with the morning exercise where we would get all together in the yard and do exercise, sing, and dance. Then we continued with breakfast, cleaning up rooms, morning English classes. After lunch, we would continue with a short nap (just for the youngest kids), rehearsals, classes, concerts and shows all the way to dinner. After dinner, we would get together with all the teams and their mentors and teachers to discuss what happened in the day, important topics of life, and give prizes for those who made a lot of progress. Older kids and the team would have evening events, as well. We’ve had the opportunity to present the countries we came from, exchange crafts, skills, and experience (yes, we did have a very long yoga class).

Everything in the Fantasy Camp happened in the most informal, loving, and supporting way. And I believe that’s why the results were amazing. In less than 3 weeks, some of the kids went from zero English and by zero I mean not even feeling free to introduce themselves in English, to being able to talk about themselves and talk about basic stuff around them freely. Some of the more advanced students became able to discuss deeper subjects even pieces of world-famous literature or other subjects of their interest. Everyone became even more friendly, understanding, and empathetic towards the others. Many, many, many friendships were formed in those 18 days of Belarusian summer.

I employed many teaching methods like suggestopedia, role plays, gamification, creative imagination, theater, dance. The kids also had some great suggestions on their own education so it was an exchange of knowledge and experience and I may only say that everyone in this communication was both a teacher and a student. I hoped they would be even more confident with expressing themselves in English and they helped me, on the other hand, to feel more confident with working with kids, teaching, and following my dreams.

My Russian dramatically improved in the camp and I’m sure that next time I go I will be able to speak Russian and even teach English in Russian. Not that the kids would need this because they would understand me one way or another.

I could write and talk about my experience teaching English in Belarus for hours and days. The bottom line is that I find this very transformative experience. Equally transformative for both foreign and local volunteers who teach and educate, and for the kids who attend the camp. There are some kids who return to the camp every summer as their parents recognized this is the best education they can provide for their kids, even if it’s on the summer break. Many volunteers return as well and I joined the camp online in 2020. My plan is to return again, this time physically, for some of the other camps during the spring or winter, or fall vacation.

Volunteering is not scary – it’s just challenging. But that’s how we grow. I want to encourage everyone to try teaching English as a second language at least once in their life. Warning – it is addictive, you may want to return for this amazing exchange of positive energy again and again. But aren’t all the transformative experiences addictive somehow?

Fantasy Camp, Belarus

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