Student Testimonials

Elizabeth Bole (USA) - Engineering and Technology
I am an aerospace engineering student at Saint Louis University. During my spring semester of 2014 in Madrid, I had the pleasure of volunteering as an English as a Second Language teacher at Julían Marías Colegio Publico. I volunteered with two different sections of the 1st grade and 6th grade classes. I spent 30 minutes with each classes—two classes on Monday and two on Thursday.
I enjoyed every minute with the kids. Not only was I able to teach them some of my Texan colloquialisms, they taught me a lot of Spanish. With my older classes, we played games that pushed them to expand their vocabulary. With the young children, I assisted the teacher in their daily teaching activities, such as performing skits with the children to increase their understanding of new vocab.

This was a wonderful opportunity for me to learn from the Spanish students and for them to encounter the English language from a native speaker.

Benjamin Riley (USA) - Business
If you ask the average study abroad student about their most memorable experiences, many will reference the crazy parties, traveling to beautiful cities and meeting good-looking Europeans. Even though I encountered all of these wonderful experiences, the most memorable thing about my semester abroad involved something that most “Erasmus” students don’t have the privilege to witness. The time I spent each week with my friends at the Madrid Multiple Sclerosis Foundation made every other experience pale in comparison. Each week, I left the clinic feeling encouraged and inspired by the hope and kindness of the patients. Even though most of the patients were bound to a wheelchair and had lost much of their independence due to their physical limitations, I was always greeted with smiles and kisses each visit. Their joy and zest for life actually seemed to be enhanced by their circumstances.

During our hour together, they were patient and encouraging as I practiced speaking Spanish. Even though my Spanish was far from perfect, they never made fun of my blunders, and they always commented on how well I was progressing. Even when I was corrected, it was done in a tactful and graceful manner. After about 30 minutes we would switch to English, and I grew to admire their determination as they eagerly learned and practiced speaking English. Together, we experienced the frustration and joy of learning a foreign language, and each week our conversations became deeper and more fluid. On my last day, I strained to hold back the tears as my friends showered me with gifts and well wishes for the future. I will never forget all of the incredible patients and caregivers that welcomed me into their loving community and sent me forward as a better person.

My friends allowed me to see that even in the presence of suffering and adversity, life should always be viewed as a cherished and beautiful gift. They helped me to more fully appreciate all of my study abroad experiences, and they taught me lessons that I will carry with me long after my semester in Madrid. Even though I came into this volunteer experience thinking that I would be able to positively impact these patients, I believe that they had a far greater impact on my life. I hope that other study abroad students will have the opportunity to participate in this unique volunteer experience.

Kelsey King (USA) - Public Health
T-Oigo is an amazing program that pairs up English-speaking university students with young Spanish students who have hearing impairments. Through this pairing, university students are asked to tutor the kids by helping them out with their English-speaking abilities. Each child has a different level of ability in English as well as different levels of hearing ability. Many of the children live outside of the city of Madrid, but most, if not all, of the parents are so devoted to the program that they will arrange for your transportation to and from their homes. Getting to meet a family in Spain and being able to practice your own Spanish skills is a fantastic opportunity to branch out and experience something unique while abroad. In addition, being able to tutor a child in English is an incomparably amazing experience. I highly encourage all SLU-Madrid students to join the T-Oigo program, regardless of your own level of Spanish, and volunteer with Spanish students in the Madrid area! It was definitely one of my most memorable, rewarding, and happiest experiences while studying abroad in Madrid!

Rocco González (USA) - Public Health
Taking the time to be a part of the T-Oigo program was one of the best decisions I had made while studying abroad. When I met my match, Andrea, it was easy to see how much fun my time would be. Throughout the entire semester, I became closer with her but also with her family. This is something I did not see coming, but something that turned T-Oigo into an even greater experience. Whether it was playing board games with the entire family and discussing the latest movie release, it was such a learning experience to figure out the likes and dislikes of this teenager. Besides the personal connection, I also realized much more about those who are deaf and the technology and lifestyle that comes with it. Blessed to have spent the time I did with Andrea and her family, I will never forget my family in Madrid.

Jeffrey Devince (USA) - Stevens Institute of Technology
MasNatur is a great program to get involved with for community service. The program consists on going on day trips to various places such as the movies, a museum, or the zoo with disabled children. When you attend an event, you are assigned one of the children to become your buddy for the day. You'll spend all day watching and taking care of this child, but also are with the group so if any problems or questions arise it is easy to get help. The events are fun and paid for by MasNatur for the volunteers. My only warning is to make sure you have a high level of Spanish because the entire program is in Spanish and it is important you understand what is said to you.

Aroona Toor (USA) - Public Health and Int. Studies
I had the wonderful opportunity to volunteer with Fundación Masnatur, an amazing organization looking to give individuals of all ages, with mental or physical disabilities, the opportunity to enjoy everyday leisure activities. Before volunteering I was asked to go in for an informative interview. I went in feeling a little bit intimidated, not knowing if my Spanish-speaking abilities would allow me to converse with everyone in the group. I was pleasantly surprised. I was able to meet many locals who had the same interests as I did. I was paired up with a wonderful older woman. We watched the new, El Mago de Oz,(The Wizard of Oz) at a movie theatre and then had a picnic at  nearby park. It was an amazing experience that definitely broadened my Spanish vocabulary! My only regret is not getting involved with the organization sooner! This is a perfect volunteering site for student looking to enhance their Spanish-speaking abilities, meeting new people, and seeing different parts of Madrid, without the weekly commitment.

Claire Kreski (USA) - Accounting
A few weeks ago, I volunteered at Acción Social Protestante.  Upon my arrival, I was directed upstairs to play with a handful of children.  The kids sure were not shy; they started digging through the box of toys right away.  Soon enough, the room was littered with puzzles, blocks, and stuffed animals.  It was a little overwhelming, but I quickly felt at home drawing pictures with one and talking to another on the set of play phones. I so desperately wished that I knew more Spanish so that I could converse with them more.  At the end of the evening, one girl rushed over to her SpongeBob SquarePants backpack, "Esponja de Bob," it read.  Seeing this made me realize how similar we were despite our differences in age and background.  Volunteering was a very humbling experience, and I feel so blessed to have met such a great group of people.

Brian Pinkard (USA) - Mechanical Engineering
To call teaching English to elementary-school kids “volunteer work” would be a complete misnomer. How can you define playing with energetic kids for an hour as work? And you don't even have to worry about not speaking Spanish if you are lacking in this skill; one of the elements of the class is choosing not to understand the kids unless they speak English! I must admit to always looking forward to this part of my week, getting to color, play with balloons, run around with little kids, and teach these kids English on the side, a valuable skill that they will undoubtedly need for their futures. It's also rather inspiring to see these kids pick up a second language and be excited about it. If you enjoy wild kids, goofing around, having fun, and helping children build a strong foundation of knowledge then you would surely benefit from this volunteer experience.

Mary Katherine Montgomery (USA) - Psychology
T-Oigo is wonderful! I really enjoyed meeting my family. It is such an incredible experience to be able to learn so much from such a wonderful little girl. I know I am the one who is "teaching" but I feel as though I am doing more learning than teaching. I am doing the easy part, simply talking in my native tongue, English, and learning from someone with far fewer years than myself. My buddy in T-Oigo is 15 months, and at 15 months she is teaching me such a valuable lesson. I came to Spain without being able to understand everyone around me, it is terrifying to not know what is being said to you, about you, or around you. This little girl is so brave though, she has gone her whole life with that exact feeling. We are learning in a parallel. She is learning sounds of all kinds, including English ones. And I am learning Spanish ones. I couldn't have asked for a better service project. Hands on, with children, and learning from such a unique teacher.

Jayme Miller (USA) - English and Spanish
I've recently begun volunteering at the Nuestra Señora del Pilar school in the Plaza de Castilla neighborhood of Madrid. The school has started an after-school program aimed at giving students a productive "study hall" activity after their classes. Working in partnership with one of their teachers, I spend two evenings a week with the students, helping them with their English homework. The group is small; usually three to six students, who are very bright and come prepared with assigned activities and questions. There is an eagerness and competitive spirit amongst them, which has led to very productive activities. Although I've only been working with the students for a short while, I can already see improvements in their knowledge of vocabulary and pronunciation. An important part of learning a foreign language is having the courage to try. It is my hope that I, along with their teacher, will be able to encourage a comfortable environment for these kids to learn efficiently, creatively, and realize the endless opportunities bilingualism can give them.

Guillermo Petit (Spain) - Psychology
I joined T-oigo because I wanted to do some volunteer work, but not just any volunteer work, I wanted to do a fun one. Since this is not teaching English as in a classroom setting, you get to play and do a lot of activities with the child you are working with. At first, I was supposed to go for one hour a week, but I ended up staying up to three hours some days just because Dani became like a little brother to me. We played Wii, played guitar and sung our lungs out; we also did things like cooking, we made Sloppy Joe’s !!! The child’s parents are there in the room with you, and also they may bring their friends and siblings; so, again, it’s a lot of fun. I would recommend this program to anyone who likes children, it’s not teaching, it’s not babysitting, it’s just playing, so you’d better come up with games and activities!
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