|Sarah Reid at Lake Louise in Canada|
It was about a year ago when one of my students asked me, ‘Why can’t we go to the UK with you?’ and I didn’t really have a good answer at the time. But, as I thought more about it, I thought why not?
|British Council Spring Gardens|
The Senior classes I teach at the British Council, Bogota, Colombia are the best part of my teaching week. The students are between 15 – 18 years old and I have been teaching them for nearly two years. I’ve seen them become young adults and we have built a good relationship over the years due to their enthusiasm for absolutely anything British and that I enjoy listening to their ideas and dreams to see the UK. We’ve studied a lot of British literature together including, Roald Dahl’s short stories, Sherlock Holmes and George Orwell and completed projects on British music, art, sport and fashion. They have a real passion for anything with a Union Jack or the Royal Family on it and it was definitely time for them to experience it first hand.
The plans for the trip grew. Suddenly at Christmas time I found myself booking their flights and we started applying for their visa papers. I won’t lie, it has been a lot of hard work coordinating everything and planning what I hoped would be a fun and educational trip. Each week the work was paid off by the fact that the students would come to class and count down how many ‘sleeps’ they had until we went to the UK, and from the second we got to the airport they were really excited by everything.
|Students phoning home|
We’ve had a lot of firsts: the first time we cleared Colombian airspace, the first time we flew over the coast of France and we were in Europe, the first time they heard an English accent on the P.A. in Heathrow, the first time they saw a driver on the right hand-side of a car, the first time they met their English families, saw the school, got a pound coin, realised it would be light until late, saw the beach, tried to speak to an English teenager, saw Big Ben, made a friend with an international student from the school and the list goes on.
Our very first view of London was quite unforgettable. As we flew into the City, it was a beautiful blue-skied summer’s night and we were in a holding pattern circling low over the Thames for about twenty minutes. We had an amazing close up tour of London from the skies and we saw everything from Wembley Stadium to the Olympic Park, to Parliament. These students have been dreaming about this moment for a long time and there were tears on the plane as we landed.
My own personal favourite moments have been hearing them use new language that I know they’ve learnt from host brothers and sisters, or listening to their conversations about the differences between Colombia and England. I love that they are making adult observations about their experiences and they can express that one of the most important things they have learnt is that they can communicate with everyone in English not just native English speakers. In fact meeting new friends and noticing differences in how they speak English has really improved their own pronunciation as they have become more aware of common mistakes they make with particular English sounds.
In London, at the British Council ‘English Effect’ exhibition, they were asked to write what they thought was important about learning English: the only boy in the group wrote that he has learnt it is possible to fall in love with a language as it reveals a lot about the culture of the country. What a wonderful thing to say about a language!
All of us agree that our favourite afternoon activity has been to go into a local primary school and teach Year 6 children how to dance Salsa. The children were all between ten and eleven years old and my Colombian teenagers were really brave to get up and present information about Colombia in English to the whole year group as well as spend the afternoon teaching dance in English. We face-painted nearly two hundred and fifty kids with the Colombian flags and the children shared what they knew of Spanish. We have lots of smiley pictures and I’ve got a sneaky feeling I’ve got a few budding teachers on my hands with my students.
What’s been eye opening? I think that the students have been amazingly articulate in explaining how great an impression that the sense of freedom they have here in England has left on them. This is the first time in their lives in which they have been given a house key and told they can walk home safely or be out alone after sunset. At first they didn’t trust the quiet streets and sleepy suburbs, but now this newly found independence will be the hardest thing to leave behind.
Two weeks really won’t be long enough, as there is still so much more to show them. London was quite a magical experience being able to see and touch the things we have talked about in class for so long and at one point in Covent Garden one student pointed out that we were standing on the cobbled streets we had tried to describe in a creative writing exercise last year.
|The English Effect at the British Council|
With only one more week to go our days are jammed-packed with activities and new experiences for them. The students have all started to make plans to study in the UK or come back to meet their host families again. They are already using Facebook to keep in touch with the new friends from Saudi Arabia, Germany, Italy, Turkey and Korea that they have met in school. I’m so pleased for them that everything has worked out well and they’ve achieved their ambition of coming to the UK. Through the whole trip too, I’ve been reminded at how fantastic England looks in the sunshine and what a really special country we have and should be very proud of. It will be difficult for them to leave and I expect a lot of tears on Sunday morning, but without a doubt they will all come back for more.
Thank you Sarah for sharing your experiences of developing, organising and providing an overseas trip for your Colombian language learners and I hope they really enjoyed their few precious weeks in the UK. Do you have any questions for Sarah? Have you organised an overseas trip to the UK? If you have, what did you learn from that experience? Are you currently organising an overseas trip and need some advice? As ever, post in the comments section.