Laura Crawford

Laura was a volunteer from Newcastle in the United Kingdom and worked in Ovalle, Chile from July-December 2013 teaching children aged 11 - 18. During her time as a volunteer Laura was involved in extra-curricular activities including leading a girls football club, assisting with an English language talent show for all the schools in the city as well as working with two 8th grade students in the regional public-speaking competition. Living in Ovalle, Laura got to experience the local culture with many family gatherings, particularly BBQ's, and mastered Latin American dancing by regularly attending Zumba classes in Ovalle.

Why did you decide to teach abroad with English Opens Doors in Chile?

Laura Crawford in Bolivia

I had previous experience on short term voluntary projects in Tanzania, Ghana and India. Latin America was most definitely on my travel wish-list and having the chance to work on a longer term-project, developing experience teaching, and immersing myself in the Chilean culture was a very attractive prospect.

The English Opens Doors Program seemed like a very established project with good feedback from it's alumni. Acquiring my TEFL qualification before participating in the programme enabled me to enhance my knowledge before embarking on teaching abroad.

What made this teach abroad experience unique and special?

The level of responsibility through the English Opens Doors program allowed me to gain real experience developing and leading classes for my students, this was really unique compared to other programs I researched. Whilst initially a daunting prospect the independent classes enabled me to get to know my students, and be more adaptable to their learning styles, ultimately having a more lasting impact on their language acquisition.

Working alongside an English teacher for half of the teaching time was also a very interesting experience. I think it is fair to say we both learnt so much from each-other. My co-teacher was so supportive and trusted me to deliver new activities and ideas. I was incredibly grateful for this and by allowing me the freedom to introduce new initiatives, my confidence grew considerably.

How has this experience impacted your future? (Personally, professionally, academically, etc.)

Laura Crawford and host family in Chile

Living with a host family was perhaps the best part of the teaching abroad experience. This immersive living environment enabled me to attain working proficiency in Spanish. Living there for four months I gained an extended family and lifelong friends, with whom I am still in contact with today.

This experience effected me personally by demonstrating the potential for very strong connections with people despite language barriers. The skills I developed in Chile enabled me to gain a wealth of experience in facilitating learning with students. As a result of this I applied for a training and development role at Loughborough Students' Union in the UK.

Working in Chile confirmed my passion for working in the education sector and enabled me to harness the skills I needed to work in a training environment.

What is one piece of advice you would offer someone considering teaching abroad in Chile?

Shopkeeper dancing in Chile

Learn some Spanish before you arrive. I participated in the program very soon after graduating and in the midst of writing my final dissertation did not dedicate enough time to learning some of the lingo. I arrived in Chile with no Spanish language proficiency, which made my first few weeks incredibly difficult.

Unlike any other place I have previously visited, nobody besides the English teachers in Ovalle spoke English. For an experience such as this where you live with a host family it is really important to prepare for culture shock. Thing will be different, and at first it will be a bit strange, but if you bring a few home comforts including photographs of family and friends, and embrace the exciting new experience wholeheartedly you will have a truly incredible time.