“My name is Shel Gerding. I’ve been volunteering for Intercambio for a couple of years now, where I teach English to adults. My background is that I have a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, and I didn’t have much linguistic training. However, I’ve always been really interested in languages. I’ve traveled a lot, and I can speak a little bit of French.
I applied to Intercambio after the U.S. left Afghanistan. I felt terrible for the people who were leaving, and I really wanted to help them. I thought, well, maybe I could teach them English. Here’s the funny part – I’ve never met anyone from Afghanistan at Intercambio. I have met some fabulous people from all over the world, and I’m still holding out hope that there’s going to be an Afghani who crosses my path.
I found Intercambio during the pandemic through their flyers at the food bank. I had recently started volunteering there.
Teaching at Intercambio is surprisingly easy.
The curriculum is amazing. They don’t expect you to know how to teach English. I had taught electrical engineering to adults, so I was familiar with teaching adults. I’ve learned languages on my own so, I was fairly familiar with the process of learning a new language. The Intercambio curriculum wasn’t hard to follow at all.
You fall in love with all your students. That’s part of teaching, right? They’re all extraordinary people. I think, wow, I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t come to another country permanently, not knowing the language. Some of them don’t even have a very good literacy education in their own language, let alone in English. And yet, here they are. They’re very inspirational – all of them.
I think Intercambio has a huge impact on the immigrant community. I lived abroad myself for a while, and it’s very isolating. Intercambio brings immigrants together and allows them to make friendships and connections that can be a real lifeline.
I’m always harassing people I know to recruit for Intercambio, saying, ‘Oh, you be really good at this.’ But a lot of people are afraid because they think, ‘Well, I don’t know anything about teaching English.’ But that part is easy. Teaching English at Intercambio is a piece of cake if you’re interested in people, and you like people. Also, it’s a really cheap way to experience travel. You get to meet all these people from all these other countries, and you don’t actually have to get on an airplane.”