Interview With John Hall, Former Volunteer ESL Teacher For Kosovar Refugees In Canada (Part 2)

Read Part 1 here.

“There was also the matter of attempting to train volunteers who had never done TESL before. Totally inexperienced teachers working with highly-stressed true beginners: could there have been any type of situation more difficult to deal with? I don’t think so!” Stay tuned for more about communicating with beginners – including John’s insight on what skills that takes specifically.

“I also had bureaucratic chaos to deal with. I started out as a volunteer for a well-known NGO. But after I had been running the “program” for a month, the NGO’s lawyer informed us that the NGO does not teach English. Suddenly, I was entirely on my own, and not responsible to anyone. I also realized that if I went to the Canadian immigration authorities at the base and told them that, then probably my English classes would be put on hold indefinitely…So I didn’t say anything about it! People were used to seeing me come every day, and I just continued to do everything as usual.”

After three months, “the whole experience came to an end as quickly as it had come into existence in the first place. Since the military base was only a temporary holding facility, all the refugees either moved on to another part of Canada to be taken in by Canadian sponsors, or they returned to Kosovo.” John had been hoping to get at least letter of recommendation based on his integral role in all this, but due to the bureaucratic chaos, including the fact that NGO staff members left town when the refugees did, he wound up with the same stock letter as the hour-or-two-a-day volunteers.

Because English language skills are so clearly in demand throughout the world, I have every confidence that even those who returned home to Kosovo can use what they learned. This does seem like a situation where, if the NGO or immigration authorities had had to rely on paid teachers, it simply would not have been possible to address this need as quickly as it turned out to be with a qualified, willing-to-volunteer teacher who happened to be in the right place at the right time.

But also significant – from the perspective of the refugees, imagine the relief of having an English class to give you something to do aside from focus on your situation. I bet most of us can only guess what it would be like to be forced to leave your home and country and not know what is happening to various loved ones not with you…and to have little to do all day except think about that.

Thanks to John for taking the time to do this interview about a long-ago experience…I suspect there are quite a few people throughout Canada and Kosovo who would probably extend their thanks to him as well given the chance.