Stay for Free in European Resorts Just for Speaking English
I’ve spent weeks in European resorts for free. As a volunteer in English immersion programs, I’ve paid nothing for a comfortable room, three amazing meals a day (often including wine or beer), tours of charming medieval villages, and dips in the pool. In exchange, I was simply expected to participate in activities, which just meant talking to people for about 12 hours a day.
These immersion programs send an equal number of English students and native English-speaking volunteers to a resort where they spend a week speaking the language. The students, who are adult professionals, pay a significant fee (often covered by their employers). Many of these programs are in Spain, but you’ll also find some in Germany, Italy, and Eastern Europe.
I’ve found participating in them incredibly fun. I love meeting new people and learning about their lives. I enjoy the games, group discussions, presentations, and especially the amateur theater productions. The food is plentiful, local, fresh, and delicious. And the wine…well, in Spain, it’s divine.
However, I get a lot more out of volunteering than a fun, free vacation. In fact, these experiences have provided benefits that have greatly enriched my expat life.
First and foremost, I made Spanish friends. What I really needed when I moved to Spain was friends who were from the country. Expats need friends who speak the language, who know the ins and outs of the bureaucracy, and who can explain the quirks of the culture. In an English immersion program, you have hour-long one-to-one conversations with all the students. You run out of superficial topics quite quickly. Conversations naturally become deep, authentic, and intimate. By the end of the week, I always ended up with at least a couple of true friends.
Because these programs like to have native speakers with different accents, the volunteers typically come from all over the world: the U.K., Ireland, Australia, Canada, and the U.S. Some are expats who live in Spain or other parts of Europe or Asia.
By the end of the weeklong programs, I’ve always made new friends among the volunteers. Some may live near me. Some have invited me to visit them and I’ve taken them up on these invitations. I spent a week in Amsterdam staying in the guest room of a British/Dutch couple and a week on a tropical island in the Gulf of Thailand with a Brit who teaches English to Chinese students online. I have a backlog of invitations I intend to accept in the future, including to French Normandy, London, Barcelona, Vermont, Delhi, and Shanghai.
Through participating in these programs, I’ve also learned some important lessons about Spanish culture. For example, if you fill your wine glass too much (above the curve), Spaniards may think you are an alcoholic. I also discovered that the Celts migrated from northern Spain to Ireland, and a Celtic ceremony for casting out evil spirits is still practiced in Spain (called the queimada). Plus, I not only tasted the revered and expensive delicacy jamon de bellota (which is the cured meat of the leg of special free-range black pigs that only eat foraged acorns and grass), I learned to carve it off the bone.
English immersion programs offer opportunities to slow travel and connect. Of course, they were all shut down during the COVID-19 crisis, but many are opening for the remaining months of 2020. Those that are reopening will comply with government health and safety protocols and offer masks, hand sanitizer, and social distancing. All are also subject to change, but travel restrictions permitting, these options may be available to you later in the year or in 2021. Below is a list of organizations that offer English immersion camps and their upcoming dates.
PuebloIngles has scheduled four immersions for 2020 in La Alberca, near Salamanca, Spain: July 24-31, Aug. 21-28, Sept. 11-18, and Sept. 25 to Oct. 2.
Estación Inglesa has nine sessions scheduled in 2020. Summer sessions will be in Montfrague National Park in Extremadura, Spain: July 26-31; Aug. 2-7, 16-21, 25-30; Sept. 4-9, 22-27; Oct. 9-14, 30 to Nov. 4, and Dec. 4-9.
VaughanTown resumes its English immersion programs on July 19 and continues through the end of the year at venues in Belmonte and Puerta de Gredos, Spain.
EnglishHausen is already back in business. Its first post-pandemic immersion in Germany successfully finished Sunday, June 21. Next: July 5-10. 19-24, Aug. 16-21, 30 to Sept. 4, Sept. 6-11, Oct. 4-9, Nov. 1-6, 29 to Dec. 4, and Dec. 13-18.
Speak in Italy is showing two sessions in October on its website and promises to post new program dates soon.
Angloville is offering a full calendar of immersions in Poland, Hungary, Romania, and the Czech Republic already in progress.
Pueblo Espanol provides the reverse experience—a Spanish-language immersion program where you pay and the Spanish volunteers ride free. Two sessions are planned for 2020 starting Sept. 27 and Nov. 15.
By Marsha Scarborough