Voluntary ESL teaching in Europe

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If you decide to do voluntary work in Europe, don’t be surprised if you are sent to one of the poorer countries: although you could also be sent to one of the more developed countries.

The trainee or novice ESL teacher will not encounter the same degree of cultural shock as working in Asia, Africa or South America; however, it does not mean that the ESL teacher will not have to make some effort to assimilate. Thus, before embarking on voluntary ESL teaching in Europe, you should fully familiarize yourself with the country you intend to work in. Here are a few things you should be aware of as it concerns religion, cultural habits, and cuisine.

Christianity is the predominant religion in Europe. Approximately 76% of Europeans are Christians and belong to one of the following denominations: Roman Catholicism (46%), Protestantism (18%), and Eastern Orthodoxy (35%). Judaism and Islam are also practised in Europe: Islam is significantly practised in Turkey (98%), Kosovo (40%), Bosnia and Herzegovina (56%), and Albania (33%). In the European Union, Judaism accounts for about 0.2% – 03% of the population: most Jews are found in France and the UK (all figures are approximate).

Here are a few cultural habits that you will come across in Europe. In Serbia, pointing is not considered rude – but it is in Poland. In Russia, whistling indoors is thought to bring bad luck. In Romania, it is regarded as impolite for men to shake hands while wearing gloves: for women, it is acceptable.  Also, you shouldn’t phone people after 10 pm: this also applies to Scandinavian countries.

In Iceland, lighting a cigarette with a candle is considered rude. In Estonia, you should break off a piece of bread with your hands: cutting bread with a knife is considered disrespectful, and if you drop a piece of bread on the floor – it should be kissed before you throw it away.

In Austria – don’t refer to the locals as Germans.

In Belgium, it is considered very rude to speak Dutch to Walloon locals and French to Flemish locals. The cuisines of Europe exhibit a variety that depends both on region and country.

For instance, if you are teaching in one of the Mediterranean countries (e.g. in Greece, Italy, or Spain) you will get to sample the Mediterranean cuisine: fish, white meats, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and wines. Also, in the Mediterranean, olive oil is an integral part of cooking: it is used instead of butter, vegetable oils, and fat. Irrespective of where you work in Europe, you can be guaranteed that you will be able to eat well. Don’t forget – research the country you are volunteering to work in BEFORE you take up the post.

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