“You take for granted that you can have a conversation with anyone, that you can understand the mannerisms you need to get around, language is so nuanced, you need a lot of time to learn a language” Georgia Van Gils
Finding Language Beyond Borders
I was working in Thailand and had free time. I wanted something online where I could use my skills. I loved the premise of Language Beyond Borders and it matched my skills base.
It’s great because the focus isn’t all about lesson plans and simply building language skills, because we know language is more than grammar. Crucially you get to build rapport and connection which taps into a much deeper understanding of the language.
Georgia on Youhana: First Impressions
I feel so privileged to have met this resilient and hardworking woman. What I keep coming back to is how absolutely lovely she is, how gentle yet enthusiastic at the same time. I just wanted the best for her so I did my best.
Straightaway she was so warm and so friendly and keen to learn. To be honest I couldn’t get over her enthusiasm: she’s an absolutely model student. She’s so driven because the stakes are so high for her.
We’d talk about the weather, what we like to eat and really normal stuff. What stands out for me is that we built a great rapport, it’s real, tangible. The power of connection through conversation should not be underestimated.
Studying for IELTS
She’s studying for the IELTS so she can apply for her degree in the UK. In the first few classes we took stock of what she’d done already and worked from there. I divided the IELTS exam into sections and I’d set her tasks, she’d do them and during the class we’d go over them. She’d demand homework and no matter what was going on in her life she did the homework.
I saw each lesson how she was applying the learning. She had a high level of English when we met and because she worked so hard she came on leaps and bounds during our term together.
Learning about determination
I thought I was determined in life, but Youhana, well she showed me what it really means. She just keeps on trying and trying. I once gave her a really vile past exam paper and her reaction to me was to say ‘give me a deadline for completion’! It’s such an admirable quality. So inspiring. She’s just brilliant.
Georgia Van Gils currently works in Thailand at an international secondary school where she teaches English. She holds a degree in journalism. Following her degree she gained a PGCE (Post Graduate Certificate in Education) from Teach First.
Youhana: The Need for IELTS
To be able to practice as a physiotherapist in the UK I need to pass IELTS and I need a high score. IELTS is hard. It’s like my life depends on this exam: physically and emotionally it’s exhausting.
I met Georgia in 2019. The first thing I told her was ‘I need to improve my reading’. She was really helpful and focused the classes on what I really needed. She found my mistakes were really small and she helped me to correct them. She gave me a lot of writing tasks; found me lots of materials and resources on the Internet.
Friend and Teacher
She’s really wonderful. She’s energetic, supportive, patient and humble. It was like meeting a friend and a teacher. I’ve had English classes before in a language school but I wasn’t respected. I was in an IELTS class but told I couldn’t be in that class anymore because I wasn’t paying and there were too many people in it. I felt really down after that. So I left because I wanted to be somewhere where I was welcomed. With Georgia it was different, there was a lot of mutual respect between us.
You can feel a lot of shame and doing nothing makes you feel useless. I have been volunteering with an organisation in the UK that helps asylum seekers and training to be a community interpreter. I meet a lot of professionally qualified people and I try to support them because they may have suffered but they made it in the end.
Coming to the UK was my dreamland and I came with a lot of expectation but it’s not easy. I grew up with my family in a close knit and connected community. I don’t have that here in the UK.
You have to believe in yourself and work hard. I’ve applied for so many jobs but each time you are let down it’s hard. But when I want something I am stubborn and determined. I’m patient too. I believe if God wants something for me it will come. My message to Language Beyond Borders: please keep doing what you are doing.
Youhana’s family is originally from Eritrea but she was born and raised in Sudan. She was given refugee status in 2018 in the UK. She’s a qualified Physiotherapist. Youhana asked that we did not use her full name or photograph.