Diverbo Volunteer Review

I took part in the Diverbo Pueblo Inglés teen camp this year and I’ve decided to write about my experiences as there is a serious lack of reviews about it on the internet. Pueblo Ingles is an English-speaking camp for Spanish teens to practise English and for Anglophones to earn a volunteer holiday. I found out about it from a girl that I met last summer (they don’t exactly advertise it) and after promising not to utter a word of Spanish multiple times I was accepted as a volunteer – however this does not guarantee you a place at one of the camps. I won’t name the hotel that I stayed at as that is too identifying and I think Trip Advisor is a better place for that type of review.

My experience with the Diverbo volunteer application process was pretty poor. I wasn’t accepted for any of my first three choices of camp (there must be around 20) so I had to choose new camps. It wasn’t until five weeks before the start of camp that I got confirmation that I could book my plane tickets, meaning that I had to spend nearly €300 on return fights whereas it would have been about €100 had I known in February. Then I was obligated to spend €160 on their Welcome and Departure packages as I was a “minor travelling alone”. For what they are (A night in a hotel at the beginning and ending of the program, dinner/breakfast and an “activity”) it isn’t bad value, but its an extra expense that didn’t add much to the program. It is beyond me why we couldn’t arrive on the morning that the bus left for camp and they couldn’t drop everyone at the airport after returning from camp. Overall a more efficient application process with clearer instructions could have saved me €200 and a lot of stress.

I was obligated to spend €160 on their Welcome and Departure packages as I was a “minor travelling alone”

When I arrived in Madrid I was met by a coordinator, despite the fact that my flight arrived early which pleasantly surprised me. About 15 other teens were waiting for myself and others in our “batch”. Once everyone arrived we got on an air-conditioned coach which took us to the nearby hotel that we would spend our first night in. Almost all teens taking part in Diverbo were at this hotel, making it hard to find anyone going to the same camp as me. After registration, and of course paying my fees for that night, I had no contact with any member of staff from Diverbo. They told us that money for the welcome/departure would only be accepted in cash, which just sounded… dodgy. Diverbo is an established company so I doubt it was for tax evasion but it was odd. They probably weren’t willing to splurge out to set up a secure payment method online. The “special activity” never materialised and I was sent to bed after dinner.

The morning after arrival we departed for our camp destination, at this point we realised it would be little Ireland as out of 25 Anglos there were around 20 Irish people. There were 25 “Anglophones” to 40 Spanish people. I didn’t know how many people to expect but the Spanish version of their website lead me to believe there would be 20 of each. It was a four-hour journey with two stops – one being for lunch which consisted of a sandwich, an apple, a bun and a bottle of water. We arrived to the camp at five and were shown to our rooms. I shared my room with a Spanish girl. She was shy and didn’t seem to want to speak English. The room was basic but clean and had towels which we weren’t allowed to take to the pool. That day we had no snack, therefore I had a hypoglycemia attack at 8pm and hid it because I was so scared. Yes, scared. Our passports were confiscated, we were 10km from the nearest town nor did we have phone signal. I thought that I was about to be a victim of human trafficking, which was quite frankly ridiculous and a result of my anxiety.

There were 25 “Anglophones” to 40 Spanish people.

The hotel was very rural and serene with a river flowing nearby, which is what Diverbo aims for; but this led to another problem – pests. Mosquitoes, flies, ants, mice, birds. The mosquitoes/flies were everywhere meaning that I was bitten all over. One girl’s room was swarmed by them and the director of the program had to come in and swat them with a towel (she still had to sleep in her room that night). Another day while I was strategically hanging wet clothes on the balcony to avoid bird shit, I found a dead baby bird. It turned out that there was a bird’s nest in my balcony. And of course who can forget the dead baby mouse that we found in the pool and had to fish out with a net as no member of staff could be found. The electricity regularly cut out, there wasn’t always tap water and the air conditioning was only on in the afternoon. Fortunately the counsellors suggested that no camp will be held at this hotel in 2018.

The hotel was very rural and serene with a river flowing nearby

The coordinators were very strict about ensuring that no Spanish was spoken. I suppose it’s a good thing but there were a few points when I thought to myself “This person clearly doesn’t understand my explanation in English but it would only take me a few seconds to explain in Spanish and then we could return to our conversation”.

The Spanish teens were very respectful of us, and were intrigued by our pale skin and blue/green eyes. Although one Spanish kids was quite rude to me. One day we were beside the pool and as I was applying sun cream she began to refer to how “blanca” I am to her friend, believing that I did not understand Spanish. I wasn’t happy about that and told them in Spanish that I know and don’t care. Thankfully this behaviour was rare and if caught out by a counsellor they could have points deducted from their team. There were six groups of 10-11 people, identifiable by the colour of their lanyard. You could earn points for “positive behaviour” e.g. leading an activity, telling jokes, going out of your way to help someone but they could also be lost by speaking Spanish, being rude and being late to meals/activities. There were daily challenges to earn points like boat races, Dragons’ Den/Shark Tank presentations, mini Olympics and The group with the most points at the “points recount” each day would get “free choice” of the next range of activities and got served meals first. Well, not quite served as it was a buffet style which brings me to the next topic: food.

  • Breakfast: 9am
  • Snack 1: 12am
  • Lunch: 2pm
  • Snack 2: 6pm
  • Dinner: 9pm

As you can see our meals were evenly spread but it was quite a shock to the system for the majority of English speakers who have a large dinner at 6pm. It was originally suggested that we bring €30-50 for snacks and souvenirs however all was provided for and there were no shops anyway but I suggest that you bring this money in case of emergency. It was all Spanish style food but as it was buffet style even the fussiest eater could find something. They even catered for vegetarians and gluten intolerance. The food was most certainly a highlight of the day. At each table there had to be an even ratio of Spanish and English speakers (impossible considering the 40:25 ratio).

The food was most certainly a highlight of the day.

On the last evening we had a party complete with Coca Cola and crisps. A fellow volunteer compared it to a birthday party a nine-year old would be proud of but at least it was a chance to get dressed up and dance. The next day we had breakfast before the Spaniards left and then lunch before saying our goodbyes to the counsellors and returning to Madrid by coach.

I wish I could tell you that I went straight to the airport, but as Diverbo “strongly recommended” taking the Departure package I stayed once again at the group hotel in Madrid and so began 24 hours of hell. As soon as we got off the bus we had an unnamed Diverbo staff member screaming commands at us like a military sergeant, which I found very disrespectful. At first nobody could find the keycard for my room but it became clear that I was the unlucky person from my camp who had to share a room with someone from another camp. That girl was a nightmare. She came barging in the door at 1am, being yelled at by a counsellor patrolling the corridors. She then began to jump up and down on her bed, flick the lights on and off, yell at people out the window, yell at me to entertain her and blast trap music at random intervals throughout the night – all after telling me she would be quiet since I wanted to sleep.

I set my alarm for 6.30am (although there was no need as I didn’t sleep) partially to escape her, but also to begin saying my goodbyes to my fellow campers departing the hotel. This was heartbreaking since the people around you during the two weeks become family but you have to watch as they drive away, unsure if you’ll ever see them again. As I decided to take the evening flight while everyone else took morning flights, I was left alone in the hotel. As I had to check out of my room at 10am, I left my bags behind the desk and had a nap on a sun lounger under an umbrella. However some cunt moved the umbrella and I suffered pretty intense sunburns from my bikini line down to my toes. I didn’t realise this until I woke up burnt to a crisp with dehydration. Perhaps if Diverbo staff had been at the pool, or had chose a hotel with a competent lifeguard, maybe someone would have noticed. Anyway, I went indoors and told a Diverbo staff member what had happened. They flippantly told me to borrow some aftersun lotion and to drink tap water. Neither of these suggestions were exactly helpful as everyone that I could have borrowed aftersun – including the counsellors – from my camp had left, nor did I have a bottle/glass for water. I ended up taking a couple of ibuprofen and holding wet toilet paper to my burns while drinking from the tap. After all of that I wasn’t even provided with lunch, meaning I went from 7am (breakfast) to 7pm (finding a Burger King at the airport) without food.  We were told that leaving the hotel would void our insurance and transfer to the airport, so I didn’t even dare leave to find a pharmacy or cafe. Try to avoid the Welcome/Departure packages if you are travelling without friends – they won’t check that you have a parent with you, and if they do well there’s not much they can do about it.

What volunteers should bring (other than the obvious and things that Diverbo suggest):

  • Insect repellent (yes, there are mosquitos in Spain)
  • Antihistamines, painkillers, moisturiser etc.
  • An empty water bottle
  • Deck of cards
  • Snacks (things that won’t melt or get crushed in your bag e.g. Pringles)
  • Suncream, maybe a spray one if you don’t want to ask someone else to do your back
  • A beach towel as you can’t bring hotel towels to the pool
  • A handheld fan
  • You will have better phone signal with a Spanish SIM card but if not at least download content to your phone to entertain yourself

Ways in which Diverbo could improve:

  • Have occasional excursions to nearby towns to allow volunteers to pick up necessities (in my case insect repellent and tampons)
  • Confirm dates/locations earlier in the year so suitable travel arrangements can be made
  • Provide clear information on what to expect. Don’t say there will be activities – tell us what they are.
  • Understand that most of the Anglos are from a country with a cool climate, continuing normal activities with 38°C heat is distressing for us

So would I recommend? I don’t know, really it depends on what type of person you are. If you never stop talking, love Spanish food and culture, want sunshine and enjoy games and outdoor activities then I can safely say that you will enjoy it. If you like home comforts, watching TV all day and have irregular sleeping and eating patterns maybe you should reconsider coming unless you want to change that. The Anglos and Spaniards are treated equally and Diverbo take care of you from the minute you arrive.

Personally, if I could repeat the experience I would have signed up for a one week camp instead of a two week camp. Once I was there the idea of a two week camp was daunting and each day felt like a week, but as a counsellor put it, each week also felt like an hour. I feel like a one week camp would’ve allowed me to test the water instead of throwing myself in at the deep end (these do exist but with limited availability). The change over of Spanish students half way through my two weeks was also particularly distressing. You witness these people grow in confidence and just as you begin to form a bond they are torn away from you. None of the Anglos really had the energy to learn the Spaniards’ names the second week, putting the new Spaniards at a disadvantage.

I feel like a one week camp would’ve allowed me to test the water instead of throwing myself in at the deep end

In conclusion, this was a pretty critical review but I feel it provides a good contrast to the limited reviews on the internet. I made some really good friends there: all the Irish Anglos have already planned a reunion and I’m considering going back to Spain in October to visit my newfound friends. Although I wrote about the application process and facilities mostly, it truly was the people that made my two weeks enjoyable. I think that volunteering for Diverbo is worth a shot and if you don’t enjoy the experience, at least you’ll leave with something to write about on your university application and a nice certificate.

It truly was the people that made my two weeks enjoyable

 

Notes:

  1. I speak/understand Spanish fairly well since I’ve studied it for six years
  2. Prices can change each year so don’t take what I say as certain
  3. “Anglos” refers to Anglophones who are the English speaking volunteers at the camp.
  4. I haven’t added my name or camp to this review as I don’t want to be banned from returning to Diverbo.
  5. While all volunteers stayed for two weeks, the Spanish teens only stayed for one so there were two sets of Spanish teens during my stint.
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