Hallo, ich heiße Orsi und ich bin 23 Jahre alt. – That was about all the German knowledge I had when I arrived to Tyrol from Hungary in September 2022. Well, this has certainly changed since then.
I originally applied for volunteering in Freie Montessorischule Stams to gain experience working in a school, in a foreign country; a whole lot of uncharted territory. I’ve had some previous experience with alternative schools, and I was eager to get to know another approach to education. I thought that I would help the teachers in this small Montessori school and get to know the methods that they work with. But I got to do so much more!
At first, I got to know the school and all of its citizens and observed the children exploring their interest and learning in their own pace. As I only understood a tiny bit of German and the kids spoke only that, communication was a nice challenge, and I decided to start learning by acting. Just like them, I was given a lot of freedom to find out how I’d like to contribute to the life of the school, so firstly we baked pancakes together (with sweet cottage cheese, contribution of the Hungarian culture). After that, I offered to play English games, to teach a bit of first aid, to sing together, and to cook even more – and the kids happily took up on my offers.
Me in front of the school and some of the kids walking back from shopping pancake ingredients
For the past 4 months it has been fascinating to witness the children learning diverse things, when they had the internal motivation (I even got to help some of them to learn to read!), and not being pressured by anyone. Besides formal learning I could see them managing conflicts, making decisions as a group, and generally developing their social skills – just by existing together with others.
What was even more inspiring was the educators attitude towards them: they are always there to create a safe environment for the kids, and they treat them with such respect that I can rarely see with other adults – although, I think every person deserves this, regardless their age. I feel very honoured to be able to work with such kind-hearted and compassionate people who showed me Confucius’s famous saying in practice:
“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember; involve me and I will understand.”
Stams in winter vs. in early autumn
Living in Stams, a village with 1500 inhabitants, has been a very peaceful and refreshing experience. I can wave to horses from my window and see the mountains, that have had snow on the top since I’ve been here. Still, Innsbruck is only forty minutes away and since there are seven (7!) schools in the village, it is never empty.
Most of my social life outside of the school takes place in Innsbruck – that’s where we usually meet up with the fellow volunteers. Either for a coffee or Glühwein, German course, or to visit a museum, it’s always nice to connect with the others and share our experiences.
Speaking of, learning German has been an unexpected highlight of being a volunteer: I found myself really enjoying lessons, practising outside of the lessons and even doing homework! Luckily, the school is the perfect place for practising: I take part in lots of meeting (Besprechung was one of the first words I’ve learnt), I usually speak German with the kids, and I even taught some first aid workshops in German!
Hiking around Achensee and the lovely colorful houses of Innsbruck (my favourite part of the city)
And last but not least: Tyrol. The sheer beauty of the region was something I wasn’t prepared for, so in my free time I’ve been wandering around, hiking, riding a bike, going skiing, or exploring the valley of the Inn as much as possible. I still have a very long list of sights to see here, museums to visit, mountains to climb – so I am lucky to be spending here at least another 3 months!
All in all, I am truly grateful to be here, surrounded by wonderful friends, colleagues and the wonders of nature. Cheesy as that sounds, I have really learnt here the importance of the people you surround yourself with – and the environment is indeed a very nice a cherry on top.
Wishing you equally gleeful experiences!