‘Volunteering hasn’t only made me happier, but it has also been extremely rewarding knowing that I am able to make a huge difference in someone else’s life.’

Student transforms lives through cross-cultural connections and casual conversations

The urge to volunteer.

That’s what led Ben Ward to spend countless hours last summer searching the Internet for just the right opportunity to help others. Driven to volunteer on an international level, his quest to serve resulted in cross-cultural connections with young people in Ukraine who have a desire to be proficient in the English language—a skill needed for many job opportunities.

Ward, a Fall 2023 Associate of Arts degree graduate from Kent State University at Tuscarawas who is continuing his studies towards a Bachelor of Arts in Computer Science at Kent State Stark, found his ideal volunteer opportunity with ENGin, a nonprofit organization that pairs Ukrainians aged nine to thirty-five with English-speakers for free online conversation practice and international connections.

Since joining the organization, Ward has connected with people all around the world. Currently, he is volunteering with a chapter of ENGin located in Cleveland, OH.

“Volunteering for ENGin has changed my life enormously. As a shy person and having limited opportunities to meet people, this has pushed me to get out of my comfort zone and strengthen my interpersonal skills,” said Ward. “The social aspect of working with other individuals has had a profound effect on my overall psychological well-being. It has also provided me with a sense of purpose, increased my self-confidence and has given me a more positive view of my life and my future goals.”

Ward recently connected with 19-year-old Yevhen from Kyiv, Ukraine. They meet virtually once a week using conversational English as a tool for learning. Ward explained that he helps Yevhen improve his language skills by going over English grammar and through casual conversations. By improving his spoken English, Yevhen plans to gain access to more academic and professional opportunities.    

Yevhen, Ukranian Student

"Before ENGin, English was this looming mountain I had to climb, and my confidence was the shaky ground beneath,” said Yevhen. “The weekly sessions with my mentor, Benjamin, were a game-changer. His energy and genuine encouragement turned what could have been mundane lessons into vibrant conversations. As the weeks unfolded, I noticed a subtle but powerful shift.”

Yevhen explained that the real magic happened when he took the leap and used his newfound skills in the workplace—pitching ideas and participating in meetings were no longer anxiety-inducing tasks. He recently received a job offer from a software development company in Australia, where being proficient in English is a top requirement.

“Although English is commonly taught in Ukrainian classrooms, there are limited chances for students to actually hold conversations in English, which precludes developing cultural context,” said Theo Wang, ENGin local chapter leader.

While serving as a volunteer, working a part-time job, doing an internship and taking classes, Ward is also planning and looking forward to the future. His goal is to become a software engineer for a Fortune 100 company.

“This upcoming summer, I will be a software development intern for Nationwide in Columbus, Ohio,” he said. “I am more than excited for this experience, and I cannot wait to gain knowledge from skilled professionals in the software development field.”

POSTED: Tuesday, January 9, 2024 11:51 AM
Updated: Wednesday, January 10, 2024 09:58 AM
Kent State Tuscarawas