Volunteer Review: Isla S., Teach English and Other Subjects in Ethiopia
My First impressions of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Boarding my Ethiopian Airways flight to Addis Ababa, I remember feeling nervous yet excited. I arrived in Addis Ababa early in the morning and, after being picked up by Samson, the friendly office coordinator from Projects Abroad, I was ushered into a car and taken on a quick tour around the bustling city.
Although it was early in the morning, the city was already brightened by the daylight and the streets were alive. I was struck by the vibrant colors and loud noises. As we drove in the car an Ethiopian radio station was playing and the lively music and fast paced ‘Amharic’ (the local language) filled me with a sense of anticipation.
As we drove to a Parisian-style café to get a bite to eat, I got a sense of how large the city was. While on the plane to Ethiopia, I had imagined myself arriving in a small and poor country. I certainly didn’t expect the tall buildings, colorful glass shop fronts and women wearing high heels and fashionable clothing.
The car pulled up outside the French café where Samson and I ordered croissants and coffee. Usually in the UK, I don’t drink coffee but when Samson said, “Honestly, you have to try this,” I took a sip of the strong smelling cup in front of me. The coffee was rich and sweet and after just one sip I immediately wanted more! Samson chatted to me about the host-family I would be living with for the next eight weeks and we talked about the work placement I had chosen. Then, before I knew it, we were back in the car and on the way to Chuna’s house, my host mum.
My Ethiopian host family
After driving down a small dusty side street, we arrived at a medium-sized house with a large iron gate. Samson helped me with my bags and we knocked on the door. My heart beat quickened. I knew very little about what to expect and felt shy and nervous. A friendly woman, with big brown eyes and thick curls in her hair opened the gate and hugged me immediately. Samson introduced us to one another and I was shown my bedroom and the rest of the house.
After unpacking my things, we had a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony. It was only eight in the morning, but already I was about to drink my second cup of coffee! Little white cups decorated with flowers and a black coffee pot was brought out. We sat on stools around a charcoal burner used for cooking popcorn (traditionally eaten with coffee) and Chuna, and her two children, told me all about the Ethiopian food I’d have to try. I felt much more relaxed and their warm welcome and lively personalities made my first morning in Addis Ababa a very memorable one.
Teaching in Hillside School, Addis Ababa
Hillside school in Addis Ababa was the school at which I would spend the next eight weeks teaching English. It caters for both elementary and high school students and has an impressive number of classrooms, science labs and a library.
On my first day, I met the principal of the school who told me how happy he was that I would be teaching there. He explained the importance of learning English and said that having a native speaker teaching the children was very helpful indeed.
My timetable was arranged. I was to teach grades one to four (children aged between five and ten years old) and spent my first day observing the teachers in their classrooms. They were all friendly and helpful. In between classes, they gave me guidance on the sorts of topics I could teach in my own lessons and, as I had little teaching experience, I found this very reassuring.
Quickly, I became good friends with a group of primary school teachers. They were all in their early twenties and we spent many break and lunch times chatting in the staff room or going out for coffees. I’m happy to say that I am still in contact with the friends I made at Hillside. They helped immerse me into an Ethiopian way of life and were fun to be with and outgoing.
The children themselves were also great to teach. Every day they seemed excited to see me and would greet me with hugs and kisses – an Ethiopian custom! They were happy to participate in lessons and gradually picked up lots of the phrases I had been teaching them. This felt immensely satisfying and allowed me to take great pride in my teaching efforts.
Soon, I felt that I had grown in confidence and had learned about effective ways of communicating to a younger audience. I learnt how to think on my feet and how to simplify English language rules for the younger children. I learnt the importance of being enthusiastic, upbeat and lively. The children loved having stories read to them and they also enjoyed conversational lessons talking about hobbies, families and their favorite toys.
By the time my eight weeks at Hillside had come to an end, I felt I had managed to raise the standard of the children’s English and allowed them to have fun and be creative in lessons.
My weekends in Addis Ababa
On the weekends, if I wasn’t meeting up with my Ethiopian friends, I had the chance to travel with the other Projects Abroad volunteers in Addis Ababa. We travelled north to the ancient Rock Hewn churches of Lalibela, a Unesco world heritage site. I was able to see the varied and stunning landscapes in Ethiopia, including the breath-taking Rift Valley. We also spent an unforgettable evening at an Ethiopian orthodox religious ceremony for Epiphany where thousands gathered in the open air to dance, sing and celebrate.
I hugely enjoyed my time in Ethiopia. I made many new friends, learnt about another culture and picked up a little of the local language. If someone had told me eight weeks ago that I would be working in an Ethiopian school, teaching a class of students to speak English, I wouldn’t have believed them. I would have doubted my confidence and my ability to make new friends. But happily, I can say I have proved myself wrong.
Projects Abroad gave me the experience I needed to gain new skills and to see an amazing part of the world. My experience was one I will treasure for years to come and Ethiopia will always hold a special place in my heart.
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.