On the Importance of Serving One's Community: Teaching English in The Hague

by Ivanna Yurkiv

I guess what encourages me to always engage in a community where I live is the realization that I am very fortunate with things that I have in my life. Many others are less fortunate, and it is my responsibility to address this imbalance.

When I was in high school in the Czech Republic, I did some volunteering projects with the homeless and in orphanages. When I came to The Hague to study, I tried finding volunteering opportunities, but to my surprise it was quite difficult, because of my inability to speak Dutch.

It was only in the second half of my second year that I had the chance to volunteer.  This came via the LUC Community Project, where we gained theoretical knowledge about multicultural education, while also working as tutors in predominantly immigrant schools. The Community Project was one of the most insightful and eye-opening subjects that I took at the university. I was able to understand the issue of integrating immigrants from different angles and perspectives. And I got a glimpse of how the education systems can sustain economic inequality in society by ensuring that the poor (and predominantly immigrant part of the populace) remain poor.

Once I learned about the discriminatory nature of many education systems, I felt the responsibility to do something about it. This is probably why I got an idea to set up an English-language training project. My knowledge of economics is limited. In fact, I dread economics. But at that moment I thought to myself:

“At LUC we have a supply of English-speaking students, and out there in The Hague there are people (especially immigrants) who would benefit from learning English. It could potentially help them improve their employment opportunities, which are reduced by the education system. That is, there is demand for English classes. And because English classes are generally expensive, they probably cannot afford them. So why not have LUC students, who know English perfectly, educate members of the community eager to learn English?”

And this is how the English language project came into being. After months of frequent meetings and exchanges of emails with the Municipality of The Hague, the project was finally launched as part of the Mariahoeve Winter School, which offers a range of workshops to area residents.

Ivanna Yurkiv saying thanks for a great first run of the course in January 2016.  (Click the image for the full video of the event.)

Ivanna Yurkiv saying thanks for a great first run of the course in January 2016.  (Click the image for the full video of the event.)

In the first edition of our course, we ran twice-weekly sessions of an hour and a half, each one led by three LUC tutors. Classes were then divided into smaller groups in order to better accommodate for different levels of English.  Our students were of all ages, from teenagers to people in their 70s.

The interest in joining English classes well exceeded our expectations—we ended up with a long waiting list!  And everyone enjoyed and got a lot out of the classes, I think.  LUC tutors had the chance to meet locals and to learn the art of teaching. Students of the Mariahoeve community, on the other hand, had the opportunity to learn and practice English for free.

Probably the main lesson that I have learned from organizing and running this project is that the key to realizing ideas is persistence and patience. Good timing plays quite an important role in the process.

Celebrating the end of the Mariahoeve Winter School with Lilianne Blankwaard, Staadsdeeldirecteur Haagse Hout. 

Celebrating the end of the Mariahoeve Winter School with Lilianne Blankwaard, Staadsdeeldirecteur Haagse Hout. 

I certainly hope that this project continues and grows in future. (We are running our second edition now.) In the meantime, I would like to say a big thank you to Dr. Ann Wilson, especially for her willingness to listen to all of my crazy ideas and her readiness to help me and guide me along the way. Whenever I had this moment of “aha”, she always listened and this has been the biggest push in realizing these ideas.  I also want to thank Klaske Hermans of the Municipality of The Hague for collaborating with me to make the course a reality.  And finally, of course, I want to thank my fellow tutors and all the students from Mariahoeve.

Ivanna Yurkiv is a third-year student at Leiden University College, where she is majoring in Governance, Economics, and Development.