Lara Guerrero, from Argentina, has spent 18 months working as an IN VIA volunteer at the afternoon club at Anne Frank Grundschule (a primary school) in Cologne. The assignment has proved a fascinating way of learning more about the German education system. As her time as a volunteer comes to an end, she looks back on what the experience has meant to her.
I came to Germany as a 21-year-old volunteer with very basic language skills but a committed approach. I start work around 11 am, helping to tidy up the school canteen and get lunch ready. These tasks have increased my sense of responsibility with regard to hygiene and helped me understand how important it is to separate and recycle waste. That’s not something people do very much in Argentina. Today, taking care of the environment is second nature to me.
Once my work in the kitchen is done, I help the children with their homework. Afterwards, I supervise them while they have lunch and a dessert or some fruit. Later on, we play or make things together.
The nicest part of my assignment
One of the nicest things for me was the opportunity to give dance lessons. I used the time to tell the children more about myself and other cultures.
Teaching dancing is no easy task. You have to be aware of each individual child’s needs and make learning enjoyable. And I had to do it in German! I spent my weekends preparing my classes. I learnt some of the different dances that exist around the world and how they came about. I learnt the steps I wanted to teach the children, a short routine, and then I prepared a few games that summed up everything covered in class. That was very helpful for my growth as an individual and as a dance teacher because I was able to combine art, music, children, education, teaching, play and fun – all in one and a half hours!
Today’s young generation is tomorrow’s future
I’m still amazed by how the education system here works and the methods that are used. From a very early age, children are taught to be independent – they can make their own choices and express their wishes. Their acceptance of each other as individuals is promoted through interaction in learning and play.
That’s why it’s very interesting to work here because the approach to all these things is very different in my home country. And I enjoy being involved in the personal development and education of each child. I’m also impressed with the professional development opportunities provided to the afternoon club staff. I attended some of the training sessions aimed at improving team work, communication, development and the planning of the school year and that was very valuable.
It wasn’t all easy....
There are lots of differences between my life in Argentina and here in Germany. In Argentina, I lived with my family. I studied at the University of Buenos Aires and had two jobs: one in a bakery and one as a dance teacher. So I didn’t have much time for myself.
That all changed when I came to Germany. I had to deal with day-to-day life on my own and being independent. I was a bit sad sometimes because my life had changed completely. One thing, for example, is that the food is different. And Sundays and public holidays here are extremely peaceful. In Argentina, they’re full of music and noise. But I did gradually get used to the new culture.
… but it was worth it!
I have learned to organise myself better, I’ve tried new things and got to know myself better. I’ve become more flexible and more open towards new ideas, stronger and more confident. I also think more globally. The social inequalities of our world, the fight against discrimination and the fight for women’s rights interest me more than they used to.
One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about Cologne is its famous “Karneval”. I was really surprised to see everyone dressing up – let alone to see the months of work they put into their costumes. And everyone looks forward to it and enjoys the whole week with their friends and family – despite the cold and rainy weather.
I never want to forget my time at the afternoon club, my fantastic colleagues, who were there for me in bad times and good. I’ve met lots of people from Germany and other countries and made new friends. I’ve come to appreciate my country and its customs and learnt to respect other cultures. For me, breaking out of my comfort zone and going to Germany was definitely worth it!