“ Brand: Pueblo Ingles / Type: Volunteer organisation „
The jury is still out until my daughter arrives back to NYC safely and gives me an account of her two week stint. However, I will say the administration could benefit from better quality control (i.e., check and test hotel phone numbers, fully disclose that hotels may have two properties connected to the same phone number (Hotel Axor Barajas) and provide the names of counselors assigned to student language volunteers. Inquiring about my daughter's whereabouts has been meet with stonewalling, excuses, and quite frankly, arrogance. My daughter is a minor and I expect appropriate responses when I call overseas. Perhaps, webinars or Skype sessions should be incorporated into the logistical preparations so parents can see who is in charge. In the states, we have a concept of 'loco parentis.' Schools are responsible like parents for the welfare of minors. While the concept may have not extraterritorial reach, it is a mindset which should be adopted.
My sixteen year old daughter seems to be developing a passion for travel and adventure. With the long summer holiday looming at the end of her GCSEs she could be found for hours on end perusing countless websites looking for a volunteer experience that would take her abroad for part of this time. I just couldn't reconcile myself to schemes in Africa that she kept coming up with, as a first trip abroad without either us or school staff, so when she began talking about Pueblo Ingles and that it was in Europe I became significantly more attentive to her enthusiastic ranting.
I had not heard of the company at all, but read the website and reviews placed by parents thoroughly to discover what she was so keen for us to allow her to do. I have to say that we could find nothing negative and with a certain amount of trepidation we agreed to allow her to complete the online application form and then leave it to the fates to see if she would be departing on her first solo adventure.
**What is Pueblo Ingles**
Pueblo Ingles is run by an American company 'More Than English' and they run camps in hotels in Spain and Italy for local adults to improve their English skills. In the summer they run 'teen camps' for 13 to 18 year olds in Spain and it is these that my review will cover.
For each Spanish child an 'Anglo' or English speaking teenager is recruited as a volunteer to spend the week with them and submerse them in English teen speak. One of the great things about this is that the teens come from English speaking countries all over the world, so my daughter was really excited that she was going to meet people from Canada, America and Australia as well as all over the UK and Spain. As she studied Spanish GCSE and is just starting her A level course she was also keen to make friends with Spanish speaking kids. Speaking Spanish at camp is strictly forbidden, but she knew that after camp if she'd made friends she could then converse with them in both languages so that she would also benefit. The communication began way before she reached Madrid as Pueblo Ingles have a Facebook site and messages could be seen flying around a month or so before departure establishing who was going to the same camp at the same time. The post camp messages are in no short supply either and she has added a good sixty Facebook contacts to her account with close friendships made with teens in Madrid, Mallorca and Boston.
The Spanish parents foot the bill for camp for both their own kids and the Anglos - good for them! For our part we needed to get her to Madrid airport and back, which cost about £80 with Easy jet and cover a night in the NH Zurbano Hotel in Madrid at the start of the programme. Due to awkward flight times we also chose to use this hotel for a night at the end too and in total this came to 170 Euros. This included lunch and a tour of Madrid, evening meals and breakfast. That's it - I feel a small outlay for the exceptional experience that she had over her 9 day stay. She could have stayed a second week with no extra cost if we'd wanted, but we couldn't part with her for that long!
We were pleasantly surprised with the speed that she received the offer of a place on the programme after completing the online application form. The form asked for basic personal data, a choice of which of the 6 weeks (in June and July) on offer that she wanted to apply for and a preference for which of the 7 camp locations as well as a statement of why she wanted to be considered as a volunteer and two weeks later she was accepted. Further form filling followed, for us this time; all the normal things that you would expect of a school trip including consent forms, medical forms, photographic permission and understanding of their more than adequate insurance. It all seemed very thorough and any E mails that we sent with amendments or queries were answered quickly. Nearer to departure further communications were sent with contact numbers for the Madrid hotels and the camp hotel and maps of Madrid and an emergency number for the kids to call just in case of a hitch when they arrive at the airport. I felt that we were well prepared and secure that she would be looked after from the moment she arrived.
The relief I felt was immense when my daughter texted to report that the person with the Pueblo Ingles sign had been there waving it at her as she walked through arrivals at Madrid airport. That had followed ones telling me she was through customs and on the plane and she even later thought to ring just to doubly make sure that we knew she really was in safe hands - she knows what a worrier her Mum is! Pueblo Ingles also sent an E mail confirming that they had arrived once they reached La Alberca safely.
From this point on she was supervised at all times by a 'counsellor', employed by the company, right through to being seen back through customs again on the return trip. She was the first to land on that Thursday morning at the end of June and waited with the counsellor to welcome other Anglos and then the friend making and chat started. She tells me they spent their time talking about the different quirky ways that things are said and done from various cultures. Lunch out in Madrid and a walking tour followed and by late afternoon all the Anglos were gathered at the hotel for their welcome evening.
She had chosen a site at La Alberca in the Salamanca region of North West Spain about four hours coach drive from Madrid and not too far off of the Portugal border. This was one of the shorter commutes apparently and some kids had a really long drive of 8 or 9 hours to their destination. So that was the next morning - off to meet the Spaniards .
Pueblo Ingles have their own area within the Hotel Termal-Villas in La Alberca which includes their own restaurant and a meeting room that houses all 70 residents as well as smaller group rooms. The kids are paired up, generally one Anglo with one Spaniard to share a twin room. From the photographs that I've seen the hotel looks quite luxurious with the main building looking quite castle like and the guest rooms that the kids used being housed in two story 'houses', each one with two bedrooms and a lounge / kitchenette area to be shared by the four inhabitants - it sounds like they didn't have time to use these though. The rooms looked pleasant and her attic room was decorated a Mediterranean blue colour and contained two single beds and a balcony, the views from which were out through trees across a green leafy valley - not what I expected from Spain; I thought it would all be very barren, but the hotel grounds at least must be watered as the grass looked pretty green. She reports that the room and bathroom were clean and well equipped and that it well deserved its 4 star rating.
The outdoor hotel pool and surrounding area covered in sun loungers looked very appealing too.
They were well fed with typical Spanish food - paella, tapas and lots of fresh fish, not to mention strange things like cold soup. The counsellors check up and make sure that the kids are eating well and as my daughter eats very healthily but not in great quantities she was pressurised a bit initially to eat up, until they got to know her. She has come back with some new favourites and always has olive oil on her bread now and requests trips to the fish counter for fresh fish, so another good horizon expanding experience.
All meals were served at round tables in the dining room with the English speaking kids alternating with the Spanish speaking ones, so that mealtimes are also an opportunity to practice the lingo. It appears that they became quite friendly with the waitresses and photos of them are included in the stack of them came back. There's also a tuck shop here where they could buy sweets and ice creams if they were starving between meals.
Exhausting, was my first thought when I first saw the programme when it was E mailed through. There is no way that the volunteers can go here for a 'doss'. Their time will be filled more than fully from start to end of the day, beginning with breakfast at 9.00. The kids are allocated into groups of about twelve with a counsellor to guide them, and she proudly returned with her red lanyard; on the first night the red team had called themselves Rednecks and had devised their own logo and poster as their group activity. During the day, activities were held within their main group such as drama, dance, parachute building, costume making from recycled materials and swimming races. I believe that there were various things that they could earn and lose points for during the day, such as being late to breakfast and the team with the most points gets first pick of the free choice activities each afternoon - she was not impressed when some of the boys lost points one day and she had to play hide and seek!
Probably the most challenging part of the day were the 'one to ones' that occurred three times each day. These involved a pairs of teens going off to hold fifty minute long conversations on anything and everything. I imagine this must have been really hard and I think I'd struggle with this even with other English people that I didn't know well, but my daughter didn't seem to be too phased by this and had some good interesting chats, which must be so valuable in building the language skills of the Spaniards.
'Fun to funs' took place in the evenings where they played games such as Taboo, Tell Me and a variety of card games sitting outside in the grounds which ended at 11.00pm. The kids then had their second batch of free time for an hour (the first was after lunch for a couple of hours siesta that they spent at the pool most days) before finally piling into bed at midnight.
The programme runs from Friday to Friday and each day except one followed this format. On the Tuesday they had a trip into the local village of La Alberca which is the first national heritage site in Spain and looks quite picturesque with beautiful timber buildings awash with bright flowers, not to mention a free roaming pig and numerous statues all of which have photos of groups of teens piled over them. I gather that each group had a list of things to find and they had to have their photograph taken to prove that they had completed each part of their challenge. A whole group photo was also taken in the village - a great memento of the whole team.
Special friendships had been made through the intensive activities of the week, so a special send off was needed. They had a disco in 'the cave' of the hotel which seems to have been lots of fun and also a farewell evening. Each of the groups had to prepare some form of entertainment for their fellow campers. We have a brilliant video clip of 'Rednecks' doing a dance to 'Dynamite' It is evident from the enthusiasm with which they're all dancing the quite complicated routine that they've prepared that they are having the time of their lives.
The next morning a sad farewell was bid firstly to the Spaniards and then to the Anglos who were flying home that day. It was definitely a case of adios and not goodbye though as many plans were being drawn up for a return visit to Pueblo Ingles next year or for visits to each other in their own homes and they all knew that Facebook would be working hard the next day. The rest of the Anglos were escorted by their counsellor for another night in the Madrid hotel before being driven back to the airport the next morning.
A very sleepy sixteen year old walked back through arrivals at Luton airport, her adventure complete, but with non stop tales of the friends she had made and the fun that she had had. She slept all day the next day - it really had been the experience that she had hoped for and more.
I am so glad that despite our apprehension we gave our daughter the independence and opportunity that she craved. As well as fantastic fun it has given her so much opportunity to develop her own personality and communication skills. She is naturally quite quiet but full of ambition and it was so special for us to see her letting herself go and being so natural with her new found friends, both teens and counsellors. Great too to know that the tears were not of home sickness or missing us, although I'm sure she did, but tears at leaving a place where she'd had such a happy time. Knowing this we will feel far more reassured to support her as she travels further, as she hopes to in a gap year or in university holidays. She fully plans to return to Pueblo Ingles, next year if school allow and if not after A levels. She is debating whether to do her Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award , but if she does then Pueblo Ingles will make a perfect 'Residential' component and it may also count as community service for the Baccalaureate that she is taking through sixth form. There is also the opportunity to train as a counsellor once they are in their twenties and many of the counsellors have been teens themselves in years gone by.
I can't fault the organisation or the programme and have to give them a full five stars with the recommendation that if your teen does want to travel and have a safe but independent first independent experience abroad then this is an excellent way of doing it. They must be motivated and committed though as it is hard work.
This review also appears on Ciao under my same user name. Form more information go to www.morethanenglish.com.
More than english / Volunteer experience for english speaking teenagers in Spain.