I participated in the Crete Program for two weeks in May 2019, with only a couple of really hot days, and a couple of times, a few minutes of surprise rain. The weather was pretty wonderful overall. I went by myself and was 71 at the time, semi-retired. In 2020 my service weeks got cancelled. I hope to go back in 2021, God Willing. Other volunteers come back again and again to Crete.
This was my second time working with Global Volunteers. The first time I decided to try them out in the US and worked a week, while a Pow Wow Celebration was going on, on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana. I loved GV, the staff, the whole experience. So I ventured further in 2019 and went to Crete.
Before you go, much of the information (in the form of a general Handbook and Teaching Guide) provided by GV is geared toward their English Language Summer School which they organize. There, I expect you do more teaching of classes. When the kids (who are great, by the way) are in their regular school as they are in May, you are working with professional teachers in private Language Schools in the area. I think there were about 5 of them that the volunteers worked in, in pairs. Sooo, since the kids are attending regular schools during most of the day (and although I believe they also get English language instruction in them), mainly you are working in an after school program. Our hours would vary, but generally for the school I was in we went from 4:00 pm to about 9:00 pm at the latest, often getting home earlier. (Our school was close, so we walked there and then Sam [(Samantha) our great team leader] arranged to have a taxi pick us up and take us back to the hotel. Other volunteers had to go farther so they were given bus tickets, often there and back.)
You are pretty limited in terms of what you are doing. We were native English speakers who practiced conversing with the students. We did practice oral exam tests with them and talked to them generally. Everyone is thrilled to be talking to a native speaker which was weird because I did not feel we were doing much. If you go, I recommend you bring pictures of where you are from, because you will be talking about your home and family. The more pictures the better. The kids are always interested and like seeing them. I am from San Francisco, so I bought postcards of some of our major sites (wish I had brought more from California generally). Also, when I was looking up my city, I remembered that two of our past mayors were Greek-American. The kids also wanted to know if California was like Greece, so the more information you can provide that relates to them and their lives, the better.
We learned a lot from them too and asked them why they wanted to learn English. Mainly they responded that they wanted to get into the University in Greece (which is free to them, by the way). To do that, they had to be proficient in English. Also, they needed English to get a good job there. I think Greece's major industry has got to be tourism, so they told us that even if they wanted to be a doctor or a pilot etc, they needed to know English for the tourists. Also, they want to travel or go to school abroad. The owner of the school I taught in was a real anglophile, so most wanted to go to England. Also the school used English words, instead of American. You know, lift/elevator, flat/apartment etc. One student, however, had travelled to New York (everyone knows New York City) and wanted to go to New York University. I wish I had known this beforehand, since I have a graduate degree from that school. I would have gotten a sweatshirt or something for her (although we are not supposed to give anyone gifts). I also bought a kids' atlas of the US and gave it to the school. We used it in the classes. I recommend that anyone signing up for this program do the same or at least a map, so you can show them where you are from. The other volunteer I worked with was from New Jersey. We go from class to class; the kids are at different levels in their English language skills, so there are different types of practice tests we go over.
Really what we were doing did not feel like a job. And, most importantly, I felt accepted and appreciated in the community. No problems there. That was a great part of the experience. Not your ordinary travel adventure. The schools, teachers and kids, were thrilled to talk to native speakers and practice their language skills. It really gave most of them more confidence. The people appreciate what we are doing, working with their kids, and spending our money. Making a better place for them. I just loved them all.
And, we had most of the day free to go see the rest of the island. One volunteer went to visit Santorini. (Weekends are free.) Sam will point you in the right direction so you can make arrangements to go sightseeing. Lots to see in Crete. We also just hung out and sunbathed. Looked over the teaching guide, but really it was just talking to the students. The boys like video games, soccer, basketball (I was surprised about this, but there are some Steph Curry fans on Crete), etc. Maybe next time, I should bring some mementos from the Golden State Warriors for the school. The girls were more serious and some took traditional Greek dancing. Their general interests were less well defined, mainly focussed on school, career and their families. The ages of the kids were about 11 to 16. Some of them could speak English quite well. Not knowing Greek was an advantage. The kids knew it would do no good to try to talk to us in any language other than English. It made them try harder.
We never had any problem getting around Crete. The location of the hotel is in a tourist area. I suppose if you were out in the more rural areas, language might be a problem. English never was a problem where we were, except among the older residents. Sam treated us to dinner and lunch a few times and it was great food. We also organized our own excursion one day to see a local olive oil producer, go to a winery and learn about Cretan grapes and wine and have lunch in a great restaurant outside the city area. The wine is pretty good and we drank a lot of it well into the night.
The routine day is a morning meeting after breakfast and an evening meeting after work. Each person is assigned a day in which they have to write a journal entry and come up with some inspiring quote. It is read the next day at the morning meeting. (This is universal at GV sites; we had to do it in Montana.) One of the volunteers acts as secretary and puts the entries and quotes together so at the end everyone has a record of our days on Crete. These exercises made you paid attention.
What I enjoyed the most: the location, the ease of getting around (good transportation system), the community and kids, Sam (she is English, a former dancer, and just an all around great human being), the other volunteers (very interesting and diverse group), Heaven (a local cafe/restaurant we would go to; going to Heaven is a treat), not necessarily in that order. You are really a part of the community and a lot of people know Global Volunteers. You will be admired.
Everything is pretty inexpensive. We were off-season, so you felt catered to. Greece's economic situation is still dire. I did my part in bolstering the economy. By the end of the two-weeks, the tourist season was just beginning.
I think everyone who had not been there before was surprised at the hotel. I think it is probably a two star hotel. Lovely family who runs it, but the older owners did not know much English. A younger family member (Sophie, as I remember) was around most of the time and was fluent. Having Sam around is also a great help. She makes things go smoothly. The plumbing, as in most of Greece, cannot take toilet paper, so you dispose of it in the trash instead of flushing it.
I roomed with another volunteer, but some of them paid extra for a single room. My roommate was surprised there was no hair dryer. Ha, Ha! It is pretty bare bones, but clean and pleasant enough. There were some mosquitos, but no odd insects. A lot of stray cats and dogs around the area, however.
The food is generally good, home-made. I am a vegetarian, so I was accommodated but missed out on some pretty tasty looking dishes. The yogurt, as you can imagine, was great, but I suspect it is because they have never heard of non-fat anything. Also no de-caf coffee, thus the trip to Heaven. Gosh, I had to settle for Nescafe's de-caf coffee frappes which turned out being delicious. Needless to say, I gained a little weight.
I would highly recommend this travel and service experience! It will change your life!