Sri Lankan-born Priyesha is a volunteer ESOL tutor with English Language Partners. She is fully aware of how challenging it can be to arrive in a new country, and determined to play her part in making it easier for other migrants.
For the past year, the third-year, University of Auckland student has been volunteering an hour a week with refugees who now call New Zealand home. She helps them learn grammar and vocab, and is also “there as a friend as well.
“When we moved here it was definitely hard,” says Priyesha, who arrived in New Zealand aged seven. “It was difficult, but because we had English, our experiences were a lot easier.”
Priyesha says it was this appreciation for knowing the local language that inspired her to seek out English Language Partners and volunteer.
The 20-year-old has had two learners so far – the first from the Congo and the second a fellow Sri Lankan. She says the lessons vary depending on the learner and their needs. One lesson involved going to the cinema and in another “we just walked around the city because that was something [the learner] had never done by herself – she didn’t have a friend to do that with”, she says. “Often the non-class time is the most rewarding.
“You put in the time, and, at the end of the day, you’re just being a friend.”
Learning on the job has come with its challenges, but with plenty of support from English Language Partners and a willingness to persevere, Priyesha says the experience has been a great learning curve.
“I’ve definitely learned from the experiences and – hopefully I’m getting better!”
The opportunity to volunteer has also helped propel Priyesha forward into a possible career path, giving her valuable work experience and allowing her to learn a lot herself while she teachers others.
“I was tossing up between teaching English at high school or teaching ESOL – I wanted this kind of experience to help me choose,” she says, adding that she has definitely been swayed towards the ESOL path – “I really like that this is such a big part of someone’s life.
“You’re helping someone gain confidence to live in a society that they’ve moved to all of a sudden. It’s a big shock, obviously, so it’s nice being able to help.”
Her advice to fellow students thinking about volunteering is to just do it.
“I think a lot of people, especially my age, would see it as a teacher-student relationship and go ‘oh, I’m not ready for that’ or ‘I can’t do that kind of thing’, but it’s not – they can do it.
“I’ve been telling all my friends to get involved because it’s a really cool experience.”
Story: James Fyfe | Photos Jane Ussher