Things I Wish I Knew Before Being an EC Mentor

These statements are from the perspective of one past intern. Your experiences on this program will vary. Every student is an individual with their own life experiences and personalities; therefore, each will contribute to the program differently. These are generalizations I have come across that may help you prepare for or better navigate classrooms. We go over most of this in orientation, but this blog post aims to give you a taste of what you may experience.

The first day takes a lot of courage—not just from the students, but the interns, too.

Classrooms are much quieter on the first day than the fifth day. For the most part, these kids have never spoken to a foreigner before. They are excited for the opportunity but are also terrified—but necessarily terrified of you. These students might be more terrified about making mistakes in front of you, as any language-learner typically feels in front of a native speaker. You should consider that you are older than these students, too, so they may be shy for that reason as well.

The Japanese public school system focuses on reading and writing English, so they rarely speak English in the classroom. Speeches and presentations are also not commonly given in either Japanese nor English in school, yet the English Camp program focuses on developing these skills. Not only are some of these kids giving speeches and presentations in English for the first time, but they may also be giving a speech for the first time in general.

I don’t know about you, but the first time I gave a speech in my first language, I wasn’t sure if I would stay standing until the end. The memory is so engraved in my head that I can remember what the speech was on (the macaw), where it was (my 5th grade classroom), and why I had to present it (It was a current events assignment. The macaws were going extinct.).

I also have not forgotten how I felt after giving this speech. I was so happy. Because I did it.

When I watch my students beam with relief and pride after finishing their speeches, I am always reminded of this same day. These students were able to do something new and challenging (and in their eyes, impossible), all because of the English Camp program.

The second, third, and forth day take a lot of courage—especially from the interns.

On these days, you present your life mission to the students, why you are studying what you are studying, where you plan to end up someday, how you wish to contribute to the world, why these students should care about your life mission, and why these students should be inspired by you.

It’s a lot.

Try to keep in mind that your goal is to open the students' minds about studying abroad, globalization, and their own life missions. More importantly, keep in mind that you should be talking about these topics SLOWLY and CLEARLY. If your major is neuroscience, show them images of optical illusions; not eloquent descriptions of the brain. If your major is music, play them a bit of your music and talk about why it makes you happy; don't go into counterpoint theory and chord progression descriptions. Make your speech interactive. Ask them questions. Encourage them to ask you questions. Play games. Don't lecture them for twenty minutes about your campus courtyard.

The final day takes a lot of courage—not only from the students, but the interns, too.

Because you cry.

My favorite quote about the 5th day comes from Justin, a past UK English Camp intern, who said this:

“During the orientation, when an American started talking about the 5th day and how you cry a lot, I was like, ‘Oh, they’re being overdramatic because they’re American.’ But then I had to say goodbye to my kids the following week, and I felt tears well up in my eyes.”

Or something along those lines.

It’s true. You bond with these kids even though you only have them for five days. You’re talking with them about world issues, about their goals and dreams, and about yourself. You really get to know each other and impact each other's lives.

Confidence is key.

Yes, this is English Camp, but it’s also a confidence-building camp. At the end of the day, the goal isn’t for students to say, “Wow, I learned so much grammar today.” We want kids to say, “Wow, I learned how to say my opinion in English even though I was really nervous,” or, “I stood up in front of the class and sang Ariana Grande lyrics at the top of my lungs with three other students.”

The 80% / 20% rule.

You should be talking 20% of the time. The students should be talking 80% of the time.

The more the students talk, the better their English will naturally become. Whether you get them to talk during a serious UN discussion or during a casual lunchtime chat, both are important successes. We want them talking as much as possible. When else will they receive such a unique experience to talk one-on-one with a foreigner?

Don't talk fast.

Seriously, don't talk fast.

You're still talking too fast.

If you don't slow down, I am going to thwack a textbook at your head.

I would say that this is the #1 issue interns struggle with in the classroom. Even when interns think they are talking slow enough, they aren't. If you're weary about your speed, check in with your students and ask if you're talking too fast. Keep in mind that your students may say no even if you are because they don't want to be rude or admit to not understanding you. In this case, check in with a member of ECMA (returning interns) to see what they think. They're more than willing to sit at your table and give you feedback about the way you're teaching.

Work alongside other interns.

Yes, you have your own table for the week, but you are also surrounded by other tables filled with their own interns and students. My suggestion is to interact with those other interns and students. This can fuel the spark for more classroom games and eventful lunchtimes. Always make sure the environment welcoming and fun!