Rachel Tan - “Connecting with the community: volunteering as an English tutor ”

Rachel Tan

Rachel is a PhD candidate at the Higher Education Development Centre, University of Otago. She likes to meet people and is a big fan of nature and photography.

Wanting to have a richer Kiwi knowledge and experience, I decided to be a volunteer at UniCrew. Sze-En Watts, the co-ordinator of UniCrew, matched my interest in teaching with the role of a teaching assistant at English Language Partners Dunedin (ELPD). I got in touch with Jude Thomson, one of the teachers of ELPD. When I visited her class in the city, I was also introduced to Alison Tait, who shared the teaching with Jude.

My role as a teaching assistant was to help students cope with the class activities, explaining what their teachers wanted them to do. The class of about 13 students was a different and refreshing educational environment to me. Students of diverse socio-cultural backgrounds and age range wanted to learn English for different purposes such as from daily or workplace conversation to preparing for further English classes.


I volunteered for 2 hours every week at these classes. My past teaching experiences and multicultural upbringing enabled me to give examples that these students could relate to. Apart from contributing to the class, I was able to widen my own perspective through interacting with the students.

To incorporate learning by doing, the teachers organised out of textbook activities. For instance, Jude organised a cooking class to teach the appropriate vocabulary while Alison organised a visit to the fire station for the students to learn basic safety measures at home.

cooking class

As a volunteer with ELPD, at one stage I had also been involved in a Community BBQ Fundraiser, selling sausages outside Mitre 10 for $2 a pop!


sausage day

As I enjoyed the teaching experience and rich cultural opportunities, I enrolled in the training programme to become a certified tutor with ELPD. There were about 16 other new tutors, who attended the six weeks training conducted by Paul Naidu, the manager of the ELPD. The syllabus focused on helping migrant learners adapt to life in New Zealand with particular focus on the Kiwi and Maori culture. After our training, we waited to be matched to individual learners.

UniCrew Volunteer

For nearly a year now, I have been matched with my lovely learner, Kathleen. We have got on well and she has been a pleasant student and friend for me. We have been meeting for about 2 hours every week focusing on improving K’s speaking and writing. Sometimes, we would take walks around the town or the campus, where I would use our environment as a topic of discussion. Being a tutor has been a significant teaching and learning experience for me, but what I find most fulfilling is making meaningful connections with people in the community.