Monday, July 22, 2013

Teaching English at Ballyneety Farm

We catch the early morning bus from Galway to Limerick City where John our host picks us up and drives us to the nearby Ballyneety Village.  We are here to spend the next two weeks teaching English
at his summer camp.  We pass through beautiful rural countryside, where cows lazily graze all day and the bleating of sheep can be heard if you stop to listen. I am thankful I will be teaching English and not helping with milking the cows.

We’ve arrived on a Sunday, the day before classes start.  It is a lazy day here and John cooks us an Irish breakfast for brunch.  During the week, we will be taking it in turns to cook lunch and dinner as well as clean up.  We meet the rest of the International staff – Bex (England), Nina (Switzerland), Mano (France) and Jessica (Italy) who arrives a few days later.  Steve and I will be the English teachers together with Seoirse, John’s brother in law.  Bex is co-ordinating the program and the rest of the staff will be responsible for leading the activities in the afternoon.  

In addition to the summer school staff, we meet Elias (Spain), who is helping John out with farm activities.  Elias is closer in age to us and is travelling through Europe over the summer to expose his twelve-year-old daughter to other cultures and ways of living. 

We are all here because of a program called workaway (  It is run through a website that allows for fair exchange between budget travellers, and families/individuals around the world, looking for help with a variety of activities.  The philosophy of this site is that you work approximately 5 hours a day in exchange for food and accommodation and an opportunity to learn about the local lifestyle and community.  If it is done well, you get to a slice of life in a new country as opposed to running around ticking off all the tourist sites on your must see/to do list.  If it is done badly, you will be asked to work long hours with little given back by the host. 

I often hear people say they can’t afford to travel.  Yet many of the travellers I meet are young people on very limited budgets who think outside the square and use opportunities such as the workaway site to engage with people from other cultures.  It also enables people who don’t speak English as their first language to be immersed in an environment where this is the only language that is spoken.  It enables friendships to be formed between people who would otherwise never meet each other.  These friendships, thanks to Facebook, will now last a lifetime, enabling spontaneous rendezvous around the world, as these travellers keep moving.  

Unlike the Willing Workers on Organic Farms (WWOOF) program, which looks to make placements only on farms where the work available would usually be farm work such as picking fruit, the workaway site provides people with many different skills to find a host they can match up with.  The workaway site includes placements for skills such as: garden work, shopping, painting, planting, help with the Internet, building, babysitting, shopping and shearing.  In our case, we have come here to teach English to Italian students at a summer camp that is hosted at Ballyneety Farm.  It is an opportunity to volunteer without paying any agency fees, or paying for board and accommodation. 

We settle in quickly to life at the farm and are made to feel very welcome by the volunteers as well as John and Catherine his wife.  John has 3 houses on the rather large property together with cows, horses, rabbits, chickens, dogs and a variety of other wildlife like the resident peacock!   He also has a great
vegie patch from which we pick salads for dinner.  John lives in the main house with his family, rents out a second house and houses his volunteers in the third house.  Steve and I have a private dorm and bathroom upstairs while most of the young volunteers are in a dorm room downstairs.

Steve has never taught English before so this is all completely outside his comfort zone.  Having taught English for a year in South Korea and more recently for a month in Cambodia, this is not entirely foreign to me.  But there are no formal lesson plans here and after we have graded the students into three streams, we realise that the standard of English and comprehension varies a lot between these students although they are mostly between the ages of 12-14 years. 

This will be an interesting experience.  John shares with us his philosophy for teaching.  Most of all, he has an emphasis on fun.  This is after all their summer vacation.  The students are here with Betta (the Italian teacher who owns the Language School they attend in Como) and two of her teachers Kyle (an American lady living in Italy) and Eleonora, a younger Italian who runs a sister school in a nearby town. 

Each day John will take a group of students on a mystery tour, exposing them to some of the historic sites around Ballyneety as well as some of the local culture that could include an afternoon of bowling or an evening of dog racing.   Afternoon activities range from farm activities, football and volleyball to indoor games such as table tennis and pool for the times when the vagaries of the climate demand they stay indoors.  There is horse-riding, biking and cooking as well, adding a diversity that may not usually be found in a traditional summer camp.  Learning Molly Malone on the tin-whistle was one activity that was quite popular.  There will be excursions during the two weekends and the first trip saw the kids spend the day in Galway.  It appears the highlight for them was the 3 hours they spent shopping!  

I enjoy teaching Group A, (the most advanced group) as they are motivated and keen and have a good
comprehension of English.  Group B and C are more of a challenge but I hope at the end of these two weeks, the kids would have improved their comprehension due to this immersion experience.  Each kid is hosted by a local family and also has an Irish buddy to help them with their diary entries and their English.  The buddies come along each afternoon and play sport together with the Italian kids, once again creating an environment where English must be spoken.

The kids perhaps have no idea how fortunate they are to have the opportunities they do.  We would never have dreamt of learning a second or a third language in a foreign country at 14! 

I am looking forward to what these two weeks will bring.   We have time to ourselves in the afternoon after we have finished teaching and before it is time to cook dinner, if we are on duty.  We enjoy this time, blogging, working on photos or chatting on Skype to family.  After dinner, we socialise, go for a walk or go for a bike ride to explore the surrounding countryside.  The heat wave has broken and the occasional storm is a welcome relief!  


  1. This all just sounds so wonderful...enjoy, enjoy, you lucky people! x Emma

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks Collie Warrior...much appreciated!