French volunteer in a Czech kindergarten: we agree on gestures and via an internet translator – EDUzín

Morning in a group of children. PHOTO: Maxime Groult

Maxim Groult is twenty years old and comes from Tours, France. He came to Kroměříž by invitation Klubíčko maternity center and as a volunteer, she takes care of preschool children with teachers. In the afternoon, he again directs the rings for the elderly. “Czech teachers and educators seem more strict than me,” says the young Frenchman. “On the other hand, you have a lot of interesting educational activities, whereas in France teaching is quite theoretical, even in kindergarten.”

Maxime, in the maternity hospital in Kroměříž, you take care of children of preschool and school age. You are not alone, but still – how do you communicate with them if you don’t speak Czech and they don’t speak French?

We make a lot of gestures, the children are not ashamed to take my hand and show me what they wanted to say. Moreover, I already know some basic things in Czech, various words and phrases that are repeated in the work. Maybe “Do you want to help? or wash your hands, sleep, eat what you do”. For example, yesterday I had this conversation with a little girl. Me: You didn’t speak English yesterday. Her: runny nose (laughs). Or we use Google Translator. When people around me say something over and over again, like awesome, then… I look up the dictionary, then I learn. It’s better than a Czech lesson with a teacher.

You came to the Czech Republic last September and will stay there until July. This was made possible by the European Solidarity Corps, which supports volunteer trips to selected countries. Why did you come to us?

Rather than for the Czech Republic, I decided to offer Klubíček. I found it on the project site. I studied socio-cultural animation, which qualifies a person to work with children and other groups, such as the elderly or people with disabilities. The maternity ward in Kroměříž promised a space for its own initiative, which attracted me. I also wanted to know how such an organization worked. My dream is to one day create my own association, a non-profit organization that will help disadvantaged people or work with children.

Individuální dobrovolnická činnost organizovaná Evropským sborem solidarity
-  trvá od 2 do 12 měsíců
-  je na plný úvazek (30 až 38 hodin týdně)
-  jde o zapojení do chodu organizace, která aktivně přispívá k fungování místní komunity
-  je obvykle v zahraničí 

The project also pays for your stay and the round trip…?

Yes, it is a project of the European Union and it gives a grant to an organization that receives volunteers. The club requested and I received money from them for transport, I have free accommodation and I get money for food and some pocket money. In total, it is about eight thousand crowns per month. I eat quite modestly, I can save money and I travel for that. I was in Krakow, Wroclaw, also in Vienna and for five days in Budapest.

And what about the Czech Republic?

I was in Prague and Karlovy Vary, I want to go to Český Krumlov and a national park, which is somewhere in the southeast. It’s July and I’m leaving at the end of the month, so I’ll have time to look somewhere.

Maxime Groult with children in Klubíček. PHOTO: Maxime Groult

What is your daily and weekly program in Klubíček? What exactly do you do with the children?

I am in the children’s group in the morning, from eight-thirty to one-thirty. He has children from three to six years old. Two Czech teachers and I work with them. From two to four two to three times a week, we have a leisure club for older children, from eight to twelve years old. I mainly do various sports with them, mainly football, frisbee and also pétanque, it’s a French game. We have a folk dance group on Tuesday afternoons. I help there too. I choose and rehearse a dance, then we try it with the children. And on Thursdays, I take a French course for children aged three to five. I teach five children the basics of the language in a fun way.

I would say that the teachers here at the maternity ward are a little stricter than the French teachers, or certainly stricter than me. What is not a problem for me is for them. I often hear the word “Watch out!”.

What do you do in the evening?

Not much, Kroměříž doesn’t have a rich nightlife (laughs). I spend most of my time with Marie, the second volunteer who works in Klubíček and who is also French. We cook dinner, sometimes we go to a restaurant for a drink, but it’s not very often.

You have already worked with children in France, mainly in summer camps. When you compare the experiences of the Czech Republic with those of France, do you see any significant differences?

I would say that the teachers here at the maternity ward are a little stricter than the French teachers, or certainly stricter than me. What is not a problem for me is for them. I often hear the word “Watch out!” (Laughs). On the other hand, there are many interesting activities that children develop. In France, children learn a lot in kindergarten and I find that the teaching is too theoretical.

Did you experience anything unpleasant during your stay?

In general, I’m a person with a positive attitude, I don’t focus on negative things because it’s not very helpful. I see the teaching of Czech, which we, as a group of volunteers, had to complete as not a very good experience, within the framework of the project. In my opinion, the online courses did not work, the teaching was entirely in Czech and I did not understand it at all. I can’t learn a language without understanding the basics. So I gave up.

Sociokulturní animace je pojetí sociální práce, které vzniklo a zakořenilo ve Francii a Itálii. Vnímá sociálního pracovníka jako animátora, který umí skupinu, se kterou pracuje, pro něco nadchnout (animare=oživit), posílit její schopnosti, rozvinout potenciál.

No problems when working with children?

Sometimes it was not easy to get enough space from other adults to work with children. Some Czech colleagues saw me as a child and I had no respect for them. But it got better. I succeeded in my proposal to organize more sports activities for the children in the afternoon. I clearly see that it is necessary, the children are full of energy and have no way to ventilate it. In the end, I convinced Klubíčko, they even bought more sports equipment, so I can learn new sports and then teach them to children.

What training did you follow in France? You can start at the beginning: did you go to kindergarten?

Yes, it’s called that kindergarten, and children from three to six years old go there. From age six to eleven, I attended primary school. This was followed by four years of lower secondary education University and from fifteen to eighteen I went to high school, he has three years. I studied social work there.

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Did you like school?

The teaching was too theoretical for my taste. For example, I think English is learned better here and more hours per week. You also have a lot of extracurricular activities, clubs where you can learn a lot. In France, school ends at four or more and there is no time for clubs on weekdays.

Did you go to school, did you do well?

I was a problem student, especially as a teenager, I was quite angry in my middle school and had a lot of conflicts with my classmates. Several times I was kicked out of school and had to stay home for weeks. When I was fifteen, I went to a private school because of these problems, which helped me a lot. Mainly because it was a practice-oriented school, it calmed me down, it changed my mentality. We had a lot of practical internships, in a bakery, a chocolate factory, in gardening, in social services. I then studied social work in high school and university.

“I would like to start my own non-profit organization.” PHOTO: Jitka Polanska

Private schools tend to be expensive. Could your family afford the tuition?

No, we are not doing well economically, we are five siblings and we only grew up with my mother. But we got support from the state and our friends helped us.

What will you do when you return to France?

I would like to continue my studies. As I said, I would like to start my own non-profit organization. I also need managerial, financial and administrative skills for this. I would like to apply for a three-year bachelor’s degree, called “Management of Organizations of the Social and Solidarity Economy” in French, intended for the management of social and solidarity organizations.

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You didn’t want to come home earlier? Because of the war in Ukraine?

I did not think about it. I have the nature to take things as they are. We still don’t know what will happen tomorrow. It is good to take advantage of what we have today. There are now adults around me who are very sad and worried. It is understandable, this country experienced the invasion of the Soviet army. But on the other hand, I think if the adults are unhappy, it won’t help the children. I develop peace in my heart.

Can you evaluate what this experience abroad has brought you?

I developed my mentality, myself as a human being. And I also got to know some educational classes that I didn’t know before, like Montessori.

And what do you think your presence has brought to the children?

I think it’s good for them to get to know someone from a foreign country who doesn’t speak their language and try to communicate. I also think it’s good for them to have a male in kindergarten. There is a lack of men in pre-school establishments. At the same time, it is important for both boys and girls to have female and male role models and role models around them.

Maxime Groult comes from the French city of Tours. Since September 2021, he has been working in the annual program of the European Solidarity Corps as a volunteer at the Klubíčko maternity hospital in Kroměříž.

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