With the help of the Principal’s Go Abroad Fund I took part in an AIESEC project in Sofia, Bulgaria. I was one of 21 volunteers who would go into classes of students ranging from 13 to 17 years old, to teach about the United Nations and their 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.
Although I was very excited about this project, it also brought up various worries. Daunting was the prospect of teaching students who are potentially only one year younger than myself. Even more so, going to a country where I had never been before, where I knew no one, and where I could not even understand the alphabet was scary. Nevertheless I got a lot of support, from lovely volunteers and my Bulgarian host family, who helped me to overcome these challenges.
To prepare us for our classes, the youth organization trained us for a week about the principles of non-formal education and the United Nations, where amongst other things we were educated in the ‘power of the circle, debriefing sessions and ice breakers’. Through this process, which included games and teamwork exercises, we also got to know the other volunteers, who came from all over the world, and I am proud to now count them amongst my group of good friends.
Even though our training was excellent, things did not always go smoothly. The first class I gave with my wonderful co-volunteer-teacher, Divya, turned out quite disastrous; we got assigned a different class, students were arm wrestling, did not listen, made sexist comments and simply left halfway through the class as recent graduates of the school declared the lesson over – an interesting Bulgarian tradition.
It was initially a major mental blow for my confidence, but soon I found out that the more mistakes are made, the more chances there are to learn. After a few lessons we learned to grab our students’ attention, manage classrooms crises, adjust the lessons to the specific audience and most importantly have fun in the process. It gave me the confidence to not fear mistakes, and rebellious students, in the future – perhaps those encounters with students actually taught me more than I taught them.
Furthermore, experiencing a global village, conferences and diving into Bulgarian culture turned out to be an invaluable experience. The most important thing I learned, however, was that the ability to empower others and create an impact in the world is in everyone. When a student starts a passionate discussion in your lesson, watches one of the video clips breathlessly or walks up to you after class to say they are inspired and want more information, it makes the stress in teaching worthwhile and reminds you that together we can truly make the world a better place.
I would like to thank the Go Abroad Fund, my Bulgarian host family, the students and all the volunteers in this project for the amazing experience and I hope to see them again in the future!