I was invited by Angloville to attend their Romania teaching programme and cultural exchange to promote my experience, however, what I experience left me with nothing but cause for concern. The company's response to my formal complaint was to ignore me and then block me on social media. For over two months I was promised a response and received nothing, so I decided to share my honest experience here on the blog in the hopes that other young travellers who wish to join this teaching abroad programme can ensure their own safety. I'm very sad to share my experiences of the Angloville Romania programme. I was really excited to take part in the trip and to experience the programme. Not only was it in a country I have always wanted to visit, but I have always loved teaching English abroad.
Unfortunately the programme let both myself and several others down in many different ways. Worse than that, when I raised my concerns to my contacts at the company, my emails went unanswered. This is why I have decided to share my experiences. Because this high level of unprofessionalism in response to a complaint of inappropriate behaviour by a programme leader is unacceptable. I know that if I were signing on to a programme like this, I would expect to feel safe and supported in my work. But sadly that was not the experience for many of the volunteers who took part.
My experiences of Angloville Romania
I want to stress that I think as a whole, the concept of the programme is valuable. Speaking to the other volunteers and to the participants, I could see the value in confidence building and language development. The amazing people who took part in the programme really bonded and became a little family. The volunteers provided huge amounts of support. We saw real progress by the time the participants delivered a presentation at the end of the week. For some I even had tears in my eyes because I was so proud of what they had accomplished. Everyone worked so hard during the week and it really showed.
However, I think that there are a lot of aspects that massively let the programme down. During my week there, I took the time to chat to the volunteers and the participants, and to get their feedback on the programme. This post is based on my own experiences and my findings from the other people taking part in the programme. Some felt able to share this on feedback forms but felt their feedback was ignored. Others said to me that because of the way feedback was collected, they felt unable to share their true opinions because they were still reliant on a reference. This is why I have chosen to share a collective of experiences from the week. Because honest feedback of the programme should be readily available for those looking to take part in future programmes.
Volunteer left feeling "worthless"
During the week we were paired up as mentors/mentees and one pairing wasn't quite working. The volunteer reported this to the programme leader straight away, asking for advice. She asked whether it would be better to pair the participant with someone else. There was no disagreement, merely different learning/teaching styles. Naturally she just wanted the participant to get the most out of the experience.
But the volunteer told me she was instantly shut down by the Angloville programme co-ordinator. She tried again the next day and was spoken to rudely in front of the whole room and was told she would no longer be a mentor. The volunteer later told me she was left feeling "absolutely worthless" and spent the next hour crying in her room. She also received notably cold treatment from the co-ordinator throughout the week. When I asked the programme co-ordinator about it, he said: "I had my own issues with... I couldn't be bothered to talk about it with her."
What could have been a really great experience was spoilt through a lack of support or any sort of understanding from the programme coordinator. Instead of feeling valued and appreciated, he handled the situation with indifference and a complete lack of professionalism. This upset me so much that I felt like leaving the programme after just one day. Luckily I had support from the other volunteers and I loved being with the local participants. Based on my own experience, and feedback from other volunteers, I feel that the programme co-ordinator is not the right person for this position. - volunteer
Inappropriate behaviour by Angloville programme leader
Sexist comments and inappropriate behaviour
My biggest concern of the week was the behaviour of the person in charge. Throughout the programme I noticed many occasions where he made inappropriate comments to volunteers, including myself. His comments included: "I prefer teaching women because they'll just do whatever you tell them to and they won't complain." One evening after I started the group playing a game when our evening entertainment was cancelled. He joined the game and made the same comment repeatedly about how he would "put me to bed after I've had too much wine."
His behaviour after drinking left many of the volunteers feeling uncomfortable. Myself included, after his inappropriate comments and sexist remarks. What concerned me the most was that there were several much younger women taking part in the programme. I have no doubt it attracts those fresh from school/university. As a man in a position of power, he should take far more responsibility and care over his behaviour towards women, and particularly young women.
Rude and unprofessional comments about volunteers and participants
During the week, I was also shocked at the programme co-ordinator repeatedly making rude and unprofessional comments. These were made to myself, and various volunteers about other volunteers and even the participants. Ranging from comments about people being "too stuck up to take part", to commenting on peoples' personal hygiene. His comments created a bad atmosphere and made several of us feel uncomfortable.
Having experienced several Angloville programs in multiple countries. I can safely say Romania was a world of its own. Unprofessional, rude, lacking in the educational supplies found on the other programs. Most of all a co-ordinator who from day one made it clear how little he cared to be there. The passion displayed so easily by every other coordinator I met, did not exist in him. He spoke badly of both volunteers and participants, making for an uncomfortable and overall negative experience. And that’s without considering the rest of his inappropriate behaviour. The amazing people of Romania, who worked so hard, deserve better. – volunteer
Complete lack of organisation
No communication and lack of organisation
One thing that caused continual issues throughout the week was the sheer lack of organisation. Despite being given an initial schedule on arrival – we weren't told who would actually be taking part in which sessions. We had been told before arrival that we would have a balance of time teaching and time to explore the area. Actually the reality was we were told right before each session whether we were taking part or free. This meant we never really had much time to leave the hotel except for those of us who were not mentors.
There were several times when myself or others were told off for missing a meeting. But we had been told we were free so had no idea we were supposed to be in a meeting. The lack of communication filtered down and meant the volunteers never really knew what they were doing, and it showed. It was extremely frustrating for those who had been looking forward to exploring the local area. Sadly many people on the trip never had the chance and felt trapped at the hotel, where many of the facilities were not as advertised.
Weak resources and no preparation time
Another issue that bothered several of the volunteers was the terrible quality of the programme materials. Worksheets were provided before each session with various questions and activities. However, these sheets were riddled with spelling mistakes. They featured idioms and phrasings that are not used in day-to-day English and were irrelevant for our participants. I found sheets that were referring to Poland instead of Romania. It was as though the worksheets were created by someone with English as a second language, or they were created decades ago.
Even worse, we were provided with these materials at each session, so the volunteers wouldn't lose them. Not only were we treated like children incapable of keeping hold of a piece of paper. But we also had no time to prepare, so when the sheets were riddled with mistakes, we looked unprofessional. The participants were left confused by mistakes on the sheets and the volunteers left frustrated. It could have all been solved with a little trust and respect for the volunteers. If we had just 10 minutes prep time with the sheets to check for mistakes. Or, even better – if there weren't mistakes in the first place!
Angloville – is it worth doing?
I'm a big believer in giving a balanced view. While yes, I was very disappointed in the Romania programme and I know I wasn't alone in this. I want to stress that several friends who have completed other programmes in different countries have offered much better feedback. They have spoken of how organised the Polish and Czech programmes are. They've said what a lovely environment they provide for language learning. So while I have it on good authority that some of the programmes are worth doing if you have a passion for teaching English abroad. I would advise you to do your research and read the reviews. But also take into account that many volunteers said to me they didn't dare share their real feelings because they needed a reference.
The behaviour and treatment I experienced and witnessed during my week on the teaching programme is unacceptable. But what is even worse is that despite my writing this nearly two months after taking part in the programme. I still have yet to receive a proper response regarding the formal complaint I submitted. This suggests to me that the programme isn't concerned with the welfare of its' volunteers. When you are trusting a company to provide a safe and supportive environment for you to teach English abroad, this is what you expect. But several of the volunteers on my programme were left feeling frustrated, upset and disappointed by the lack of either.
What about the participants?
Another issue I found was that some of the local participants came to the programme expecting a more formal language teaching programme. They had expected more of a grammar and business English speaking experience. But this isn't what they received – the actual programme is more of a conversational style and confidence-boosting. I'm not certain exactly how it is advertised to the local participants. But I think if I had paid that amount of money for the course, I would be very disappointed.
While it does help with confidence boosting, of the promised 70 hours of instruction. Actually only around 30 hours are formal classes with a native English speaker. The rest of the hours include mealtimes (our co-ordinator spent most of these on his phone), free time, entertainment (several of these sessions were cancelled). I've heard that the participants pay around €1000-1500 for the week-long programme. This is a huge amount of money considering that most of the volunteers have little teaching experience. I just don't feel that the participants gain enough from the programme over the course of the week to justify the price-tag.
The much wider issue with cultural exchanges
If you're planning to do a cultural exchange or teaching English programme, I want to stress that my research has shown a huge gap in the protection of volunteers. Whether you're doing this in the UK or abroad, there is not currently any regulation for this part of the tourism industry. While programmes aimed at children will require the standard CRB checks – there is a big gap when it comes to young adults. I've spent the last few weeks researching the industry and have been shocked at the sheer lack of regulation and reporting.
While programmes aimed at those under 18 would be covered by child protection laws. There is nothing to ensure the safety of the next age group. Those volunteers aged 18-25 who are away from home for the first time. Perhaps they're abroad and feel safe travelling as part of a programme, which gives their parents some comfort. But these volunteers might also be those most at risk. As a nearly 30-year-old woman, I felt comfortable to speak out on the behalf of others when I saw things that concerned me at Angloville. But what worries me is that an 18-year-old away from home for the first time might not feel as secure or confident to do the same.
A final note
If you're planning on joining a teaching English (TEFL) programme abroad, please do not let this put you off. Let this blog post serve as a warning to do your research and only go into a situation where you feel safe. There are many great programmes which can help you get valuable teaching experience. Choose wisely and you could have an amazing time. I recommend checking out Year Out Group, an association of approved gap year providing organisations most of which are registered in the UK. These are actually moderated and follow a code of practice, plus they provide proper support and handling for complaints.
Teaching English abroad is something I've loved for years. It's a really rewarding experience and a great way of combining teaching with travel. If you do have a bad experience – please voice it. If everyone gives fake "good" reviews it means others could end up in a bad situation. Don't be afraid to use your voice, speak out and make a complaint.
Have you ever taken part in a teaching English abroad programme? Which companies would you recommend?