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An Issel Family's Journey of Volunteering with ENGin

Brigitte Issel, alongside her children Jonathan and Elizabeth, has been an integral part of ENGin's volunteer network for the past 14 months. Their dedication to supporting English learners in Ukraine has not only enriched the lives of their buddies but has also brought immense fulfillment to their own lives.


ENGin volunteers Jonathan, Brigitte, Elizabeth Issel

Brigitte says, “I absolutely love the time that I spend with my buddies. These sessions are the highlight of my week!” And her children share her love to the program.

A little bit about the Volunteers:


Elizabeth: I am 17 years old. In my free time, I like to spend time with my family, draw landscape pictures, play the piano, do gymnastics, and study different languages. 


Jonathan: I am 19 years old. I have a 100-pound dog named Dancer. My hobbies are photography, cooking, watching anime, and playing the Yu-Gi-Oh! trading card game. 


Brigitte: Professionally, my experience is as an editor, writer, educator, and advocate. My degrees are in law, public administration, management, communications, and political science. Also, I have nearly fulfilled the requirements for a master's degree and teaching credential in education. In my free time, I find joy in hiking with my teenage children, conducting genealogical research, and watching detective shows. Additionally, I am passionate about studying diverse historical periods, cultures, and languages.


 

This is how the Issel family members have meetings with their students at ENGin:


Elizabeth: We talk about different topics like: our classes, and careers that we are interested in, and what countries we want to visit in the future.

Jonathan: I have volunteered with 3 buddies. One has graduated, so now I meet with two buddies. Our sessions are very interactive. We have interesting conversations about our lives, do a variety of reading and speaking exercises, and even help each other study!

Brigitte: I volunteer with six adult Ukrainian ENGin buddies. One of them is a technology director, one is an English tutor, and one works as an account representative. I provide individual support, helping them to build their English fluency. This involves honing their conversational abilities, explaining some complex grammar rules, and boosting their confidence in speaking. Their dedication inspires me to create numerous customized lessons using real-life scenarios. Also, sometimes we switch our roles, and they teach me in English about various aspects of Ukrainian culture, history, geopolitics, etc.


My three other buddies work as teachers in Ukraine. So, the sessions with my teacher-buddies are designed with specific goals in mind. Our lessons cover a wide range of topics relevant to educators today, from exploring the qualities of a 21st-century teacher to pitching ideas for education reform. In a typical session, we might discuss the role of technology in the classroom, analyzing tools like AI and virtual reality for engaging students. Or, we could focus on teaching methods like microlearning and flipped classrooms. Another lesson tackles communication and adaptability skills that are key for students' development.

Beyond exploring best practices, my approach is to create an open, thoughtful dialogue. We share professional experiences and exchange practical insights on everything from conflict resolution to mental health strategies for

reducing teacher burnout. My aim is to facilitate sessions that are both educational and empowering.


 

Through their volunteer work, they've witnessed remarkable improvements in their buddies' spoken English skills, leading to increased confidence and fluency.


Elizabeth: Yes, my first buddy’s English improved so much. She graduated from the program and told me that she can now confidently use English whenever she needs to. Now, I am volunteering with three new buddies. Their English is improving at each session. It is fun to be a part of their progress.


Jonathan: Yes, all of my buddies have improved a lot since we started. During each session, I have noticed that their speaking skills have become more fluent. All of my buddies seem excited when they realize that they can carry on conversations in English by practicing with me. Also, one of my buddies has developed more confidence by taking turns reading paragraphs in a book with me.


Brigitte: Over the course of our sessions, I have definitely noticed steady improvement in my adult Ukrainian buddies' spoken English skills. I can hear marked gains in their conversational abilities. Their replies grow more fluid as we practice casual and professional dialogues. It is highly rewarding to observe their English progress. Whether from vocabulary gains, to smoother sentence structures, or expanded discussion complexity - each step forward unlocks opportunities for my Ukrainian buddies. Witnessing their skills and confidence levels rise increases my motivation as a volunteer. One of my teacher-buddies told me she now feels confident incorporating more English instruction into her classroom teaching. She credits our lessons on education methods and technology integration for expanding her fluency and additional capabilities. 


 

Elizabeth, Jonathan, and Brigitte emphasize the importance of volunteering with ENGin, citing personal growth, cultural exchange, and the opportunity to support Ukrainians during challenging times as key motivations.


Elizabeth: Volunteering with ENGin is important to me because it helps me develop better teaching skills. After I graduate from high school, I want to attend college to become a teacher. Also, through volunteering with ENGin, I get to learn about different Ukraine’s culture. Additionally, I am a social butterfly and love to make friends with Ukrainians because they are so intelligent, hardworking, and good influences on me!


Jonathan: ENGin helps me get to know new Ukrainians. It means a lot to me to be able to help them learn more English and to show them my support during the war.


Brigitte: Volunteering with ENGin connects me to a global community and renews my sense of purpose. My background is different from a typical American's. When I was 19, I lived in Germany and attended a university with 50 other American students. We studied German history, culture and language while taking trips to sites like concentration camp museums and Anne Frank’s secret annex. We also examined West-East relations in West Berlin – followed by visiting behind the Iron Curtain to meet everyday citizens and the Soviet Union’s Communist Party representatives. These eye-opening experiences reshaped my worldview. Since then I’ve researched Germany’s history in-depth, including past propaganda tactics. It is surreal to see the same playbook used by Russia against Ukraine. I am shocked, horrified and deeply saddened. 


In my role at ENGin, I dedicate my efforts to helping my Ukrainian buddies significantly enhance their English-speaking abilities. This involves sharing strategies for mastering the language and boosting their confidence. Our interactive sessions focus on real-life conversations, improving their fluency. My buddies clearly value our time together and frequently express appreciation, which makes me feel valued and necessary in my role. 


 

Most of all, volunteering with ENGin gives me a community in which I can empower people to defend their country's sovereignty against Russia's attempts at authoritarian control. Their resilience and positivity during Russia's full-scale invasion against Ukraine, while actively improving their English, is genuinely inspiring. The strong commitment by my buddies demonstrates their spirit and ties in with their goal to be an essential part of the global effort that will help rebuild and shape Ukraine's future. What they give back in modeling these critical life skills is deeply rewarding for me. I am grateful to ENGin for rekindling my sense of purpose and connecting me to Ukrainians when they needed support. 


Step into the realm of impactful volunteering with ENGin, where families like Brigitte's ignite sparks of inspiration. Witnessing entire families join our ranks as volunteers illuminates the profound sense of community and belonging fostered by our program. Join us and become part of this extraordinary journey, where your efforts ripple outward, touching lives and shaping futures, where every interaction is a step toward a brighter tomorrow.




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