Four Lao English teachers attend an English language course at Hilderstone College, sponsored by the German foundation Angels for Children.
According to Google maps, it is a journey of 11,700 km from the village of Ban Sikeud in Laos to Broadstairs, Kent, England. A journey of two or three connecting flights, approximately 16-17 hours in total – quite a long trip but nothing extraordinary for travellers from Europe or other Western countries. Globalization and a huge range of airlines offering flights to any destination in the world lead to a feeling of a relatively small world – any city in the world can be reached at the latest within two days.
But such thinking only goes for a minority of people in the world – probably only a very small percentage of the world population could afford such a journey or even imagine the distance and cultural differences. If the majority also has an idea, this is probably only from TV or the Internet.
Early in 2016, just before Team I left Laos, the German foundation Angels for Children awarded four Lao English teachers with a scholarship for an eight-week intensive English language and teacher development course at Hilderstone College in England. This incentive had been announced when the pilot project got started in October 2015, to get the teachers interested in making our project their own.
Team II subsequently started preparing the four travellers-to-be for their stay in England, as there were, understandably, many uncertainties, fears, and questions.
On 22 June 2017 Ms Mittaphone Sichampa, Ms Phovang Inthavong, Mr Souvanh Navong, and Ms Donekeo Keositthivong finally embarked on their 11,700 km journey, the journey of their lifetime, as some of them never even travelled outside their own country.
Angels for Children has supported education for children in Laos in two primary and one lower secondary school in the villages of Ban Sikeud and Ban Phang Heng, on the outskirts of the capital Vientiane, since 2003. Over the last two years, the teacher-training programme “Teaching English in Laos” was developed together with Prof. Dr. Isabel Martin (Professor for English language, ELT didactics, and literature, University of Education Karlsruhe, Germany), with the aim of helping Lao teachers to develop and improve their skills and competences, especially Lao English teachers.
The scholarship programme is now a new important pillar of the “teach-the-teacher“ programme: Following Prof. Martin’s recommendation, the foundation chose Hilderstone College for their comprehensive, diversified, and flexible teaching approach, and for their offer of a special teacher development course for international teachers. As Prof. Martin’s outline of a customized programme fitting the needs of the Lao teachers was accepted by the college, and as the college also made a special offer financially, the foundation finally sent the four teacher-students over in June 2017. Two stopovers in Karlsruhe on the weekend before and after the course at Hilderstone College facilitated a smooth transition, and the teachers also had a chance this way to meet many of the project’s former (Teams I-IV) and next volunteers (Teams V-VI) and to visit the University of Education.
The four teachers felt welcome from the beginning both at the college and in their homestay families. Project leader Johannes Zeck from the foundation accompanied the four during their first days in England and Isabel Martin joined them in their sixth week. Besides, they were also visited by three of their former tandem-teachers from the University of Karlsruhe. The course work and programme turned out to be very professional and suitable indeed and kept them very busy.
Additionally, during the weekly weekend trips organized by Hilderstone College, the four teachers were able to dive deeply into the British and Western culture, history, and tradition. Besides their language skills, their self-confidence and problem-solving competence also grew. The four also learned how to apply techniques such as using the Google search effectively to get information, using a navigation system, or (almost) writing documents in WORD and sending them via e-mail. When one does not need those abilities because they are superfluous in one’s environment – how or why should he or she know how to apply them? Maybe one has heard about them but never needed to use them. Of course our four friends knew about Google, Google maps, PCs, and emails –just like we “know about” the best way to kill a chicken, shred a papaya, weave fabrics, harvest rice, or drive the cows home.
In other words, this journey did not only give them the opportunity to join an English language course and travel to British cities on their weekends – it led to the unimaginable experience of being part of an utterly different cultural system of thinking, working, behaving, and acting for a while. How does one address the teacher? Cross at traffic lights? Eat at table? Pay in a supermarket? Eat an ice-cream in a cone?
One can follow this challenging journey on the project blog of Angels for Children and the University of Education Karlsruhe: “Letters from England” is a new series of articles about the experiences of the four teachers in England.
We would like to cordially thank Hilderstone College for their excellent offer, their helpfulness, professionalism, and great hospitality – you have contributed a great deal to the journey of a lifetime of these four Lao learners. We look forward to their application of their improved skills in their Lao classrooms, which will contribute to the vision of Ingrid Engel, founder of Angels for Children:
„All children – no matter where they were born – should have the same opportunities. With our family foundation “Angels for Children” we want to help children in Laos to achieve that goal – step by step.“
Text & photos by J. Zeck