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Redirected: Fathom's Teaching English in the Dominican Republic

Gina Kramer
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English teacher pantomiming for students

Don't be intimidated if your Spanish vocabulary doesn't extend past "hola," "gracias" and "adios;" the only skills you need for Fathom's teaching-English program are an outgoing personality and willingness to engage in impromptu dance parties. Fathom, the only cruise line dedicated to volunteer travel, offers a chance to improve English proficiency in Puerto Plata through a series of fun, educational activities. To give you a taste of what teaching English in the Dominican Republic is like, Cruise Critic visited a local school to try out the activity.

What It Is

Teaching English in the Dominican Republic is one of many volunteer activities available on a Fathom cruise. The program takes place in the small village of San Antonio, a roughly 30-minute bus ride from the port area. Here, Fathom works directly with Entrena, a local organization with more than 25 years of experience in language education. When Fathom volunteers aren't visiting, students attend classes on a regular basis. The goal of volunteers is to get students comfortable with the basic words and phrases they learn throughout the week in a fun, motivational learning environment.

One obvious difference with this program, versus other Fathom activities with local schools, is that students in this program aren't just kids. Because English proficiency is the ticket to a successful job in the Dominican Republic, programs are open to adults, too.

Classroom visit in the Domincan Republic

Our Experience

Volunteers underwent a brief orientation before they arrived in San Antonio. They also got a quick background on the community and an opportunity to flip through the lesson plans they would use with their students. For the teaching portion, volunteers team up with students in groups of five to six (there will be at least two volunteers per group). This setup alleviates the pressure, though there's no need to worry about language barriers. The Entrena staff members encourage volunteers to speak only English while acting out various words, but are on hand to translate if needed.

We were in a group of three volunteers and two students: a 22-year-old man and a 28-year-old woman, with a little one attached to her hip. Because each student was at a different proficiency level (they take English-speaking classes throughout the week), the lesson was a bit slow to start.

Despite the staff telling us we didn't need to use Spanish while we taught, we found it difficult to explain that we wanted our students to respond to our prompts in English. (We worked on "feelings" during our session, and we acted our things like "sad" or "happy.") On the flip side, the fact that both students were on different levels worked in our favor. The woman was more advanced and able to relay info back to the young man.

Eventually, we found our flow and breezed through the lesson. The best part was imitating various emotions such as hungry, tired and sick. Our sick enactment garnered the most laughs, thanks to some impassioned hurling faces and sound effects. We even had time to practice our Spanish afterward, exchanging facts about ourselves and showing them photos of our families.

Overall, we found it hard to measure how much new information the students actually picked up on. The real impact with this program is the social interaction. Outside the teaching-English portion, fun, interactive dances and games helped break the ice and had everyone smiling. Many volunteers had left feeling like they made new friends.

Classroom visit in the Domincan Republic

Worth a Try?

Yes. The teaching-English program is a perfect way to dip your toe into voluntourism. It requires no Spanish-speaking skills or previous teaching experience, and is fun for all ages.

Things to Note

The tour volunteers take before jumping into teaching roles involves a bit of walking on dirt roads and streets with poor infrastructure. Wear closed-toe shoes, sneakers or hiking boots. Also, because San Antonio is inland, mosquitoes are prevalent. Wear insect repellant and bring some with you in case you need to reapply.

While we enjoyed the games and singing, some might find them uncomfortable or even a bit juvenile. If you have trouble getting out of your comfort zone, this isn't the activity for you.

Updated October 10, 2019

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