Around the World

Volunteering Abroad – How Your Trip Can Make an Impact

Dec 2021 | By Catherine Daley

Volunteering Abroad – An Affordable, Fun New Way to Travel

In 1977, a Texan named Richard Vaughan developed an English teaching system that revolutionized language training in Spain. Vaughan had already established that a 30-minute conversation with a native English speaker was just as effective as spending a full day in an English-speaking country. This type of immersion into any foreign language helps to achieve listening comprehension, as well as verbal expression. 

Today, it’s one of the largest providers of language programs for Spanish business executives. The Vaughan Town Project was launched in 2001 and since then they have conducted more than 850 programs involving more than 10,000 English-speaking volunteers and Spanish clients.

In exchange for room and board

It’s the type of holiday that’s a great add-on if you’re visiting Europe, or as an independent destination. Some volunteers will do a couple of weeks in a row, but the second week would be in different accommodation and with a new group of people. 

Spanish Resort for VolunteeringI signed up for a six-day program, and met up with fellow Anglos at a tapas reception in Madrid on the Saturday evening prior to our departure. The wine was flowing and we quickly established our countries of origin. I was the only Canadian in this group of 15 Anglos, with a good mix of male and female volunteers from Britain, Scotland and the U.S., plus one lovely gentleman, named Frank, from Australia whose age hovered around the eight-decade mark. He had signed up for a second volunteer program at a different resort following our week together, and then was going to walk the Camino.

At 8:45 on Sunday morning I boarded a bus for a three-hour journey to Puerta de Gredos – an18th century resort with views of the Sierra de Gredos Mountain Range in central Spain. We had been instructed the night before to sit with a fellow Spaniard. I approached the first person that I saw, sat down with my new bus mate, and we talked non-stop. While Pilar’s English was somewhat hesitant at times as she searched for the right word or expression, there was no language barrier between two mothers who had daughters of the same age. We talked about family, customs, shared interests, and by the time that we got off the bus we had formed an intimate bond – and we are still in touch to this day.

Talk, Listen, Connect

I can give you the breakdown of our days, but it’s difficult to explain the ease in which everyone settled into a trustful and respectful union. I’ve attended many classes, workshops and retreats in my lifetime, and I have to admit that I’m not always comfortable in an overly structured environment. I thought that I might find the days too long, and yearn to get out on my own and explore. While the Vaughan facilitators scheduled the days to meet the requirements of the program, there was a relaxed simplicity to all that we did.

Vacation in Spain while helping local vocabulariesWe received a wake-up call at 8:15. Breakfast was at 9 a.m., followed by four one-hour, one-on-one conversations – each hour with a different person. At this time, we could go for a walk, play a game, or relax over a coffee – as long as we were talking. At all meals we also alternated with Anglos and Spaniards at each table, and the conversations kept on going. Lunch at 2 p.m. was followed by a siesta (or free time) until 5 p.m., after which we started another four hours of one-hour sessions. Dinner was at 9 p.m. Some participants retired to the lounge after dinner for more social interaction, while others retired to their luxurious room for some ‘me’ time.

One-on-ones were interspersed with telephone sessions, conference calls, group activities, and at the end of the week each Spaniard prepared a five-minute presentation in English that we assisted them with. We all celebrated their success.

Spanish Countryside at Vaughan Town Resort

Maria Jose from Madrid shared this sentiment to all of us in an email, “Last week we lived a dream, a really nice one. For a week we were a bunch of friends talking to each other, walking, joking, eating, singing, acting. We opened our hearts and we found out many wonderful things. The dream lasted six days.”

As for the Anglos, we received a certificate acknowledging our participation and the fact that we talked for a total of 80 hours in those six short days. Emma from the UK wrote, “It’s a few days in which you give a great deal, but you take away even more.”

For more information visit volunteers.grupovaughan.com