In the heart of Leslie Bates's post-retirement chapter, a serendipitous connection with ENGin opened doors to a remarkable journey of cultural exchange and friendship. Leslie, a seasoned professional with a lengthy career in university administration, found a meaningful way to contribute after the tumultuous events of Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Driven by a desire to make a difference, Leslie joined ENGin as a volunteer, discovering an opportunity to assist Ukrainians in enhancing their English language skills. Reflecting on her motivation, Leslie shared, "The volunteer opportunity greatly appealed to me, and so I applied." Little did she know that this decision would lead to a transformative experience for both her and her Ukrainian language buddy, Nataliia.
Their journey began in April, marked by weekly Zoom sessions that evolved into much more than language lessons. Leslie and Nataliia's bond deepened as they explored alternative means of communication, using WhatsApp to share glimpses of their daily lives. Leslie expressed, "It was a great way to share our cultures with each other."
Navigating Nataliia's intermediate English proficiency, Leslie found joy in the process of language improvement.
"I love it when Nataliia corrects herself before I have a chance to!"
Leslie remarked, emphasizing the collaborative nature of their sessions.
The story took an exciting turn when Leslie shared her plans to travel to Europe in October. Nataliia suggested a meet-up in the Czech Republic during Leslie's stay in Prague, a proposal that brought the prospect of a face-to-face encounter to life. Despite a slight hiccup with colds right before their meeting, Leslie and Nataliia seized the opportunity to meet in person.
Describing the memorable meeting, Leslie shared, "We were like two old friends who hadn't seen each other in a long time with smiles and hugs." The experience left a lasting impression on both, affirming the unique and irreplaceable nature of in-person connections.
Leslie, who has become an ardent advocate for ENGin, encourages others to join as volunteers and share their knowledge within their communities.
"I have shared my ENGin volunteer story with anyone who will listen in hopes that others will volunteer," Leslie stated, emphasizing the ripple effect of such connections.
As Leslie continues to support Nataliia's language journey, she looks back on the profound impact of this commitment.
"It is a very worthwhile commitment, and I'm so grateful to have found a way to help a Ukrainian, especially one who I now can call my friend".
Her journey stands as a testament to the transformative power of language, cultural exchange, and the meaningful connections forged through initiatives like ENGin.