Teaching English in Laos

For government employees in Vientiane, the capital city of Laos, learning English is a critical skill to help them communicate and engage with international clients and colleagues around the world. To help meet this need, Cuso International placed Daniel Kwasnicki, of Regina, Saskatchewan, in the country to teach English.

“I am an English trainer for Ministry of Agriculture employees. I work specifically with the co-op and planning department. These are the staff who work with foreign governments and non-governmental organizations who share their knowledge to make business more effective,” Daniel said. “They deal with international organizations on a regular basis, so they have to be able to speak English.”

Daniel landed this placement as part of the International Youth Internship Program, sponsored by Global Affairs Canada. He will be teaching English for six months, with plans to return to Canada in June. The University of Ottawa graduate is a perfect match for this position, having already earned experience teaching English in Korea.

He notes that when he first arrived in Laos, it was a challenge to set up a program for the employees because he is the first volunteer to ever have taught there. “I had to set up a system to accommodate their needs and give them a test to see what level they are at. It was important to make the curriculum more flexible because their work is so demanding,” he said, explaining that oftentimes his pupils have to arrive to class late or they leave class early due to work demands.

He holds his class in the evening after work. He spends his days preparing for his class, and making himself available to the students in case they need English-language support during work hours. He fills his free time learning Laotian language and practicing kick-boxing, a popular local sport. His students often invite him to spend time with their families in their villages.

“The people here are very friendly and welcoming. Often, when I visit their villages, they have a big feast with unique food prepared. There is no food that surprises me now. I’ve tried many insects, snake, bat, squirrel, and chicken head,” he said. “Laos people love music and karaoke, so music is always part of the day. They have fishing ponds, so sometimes they go fishing. Anything you catch they’ll fry and BBQ right away.”

The overall experience has been a positive one, he said, and an opportunity to brush up on his professional skills. “It gives me a better sense of how development works. I’ve been studying it in academics, but it’s always been an arms distance away. Being here and seeing how the agencies work together and implement programs has been a huge benefit to me, and gives me a sense of scope of what international agencies can do and what challenges they face.”

He knows that moving half way around the world to a foreign country can be intimidating, but encourages others to make the leap and go for it. “When I talk to a lot of people here they say that some volunteers show interest in coming, but they get cold feet at the last minute. It’s scary when you first come over and move to a completely new country. But I have nothing but good experiences. I really recommend it to others.”