Teaching English at Intercambio is a Piece of Cake

headshot of Shel

“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. 

Shel teaching a class

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.” 

Ready to be inspired by the English language learners in your community?

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