How to make a difference: English Academy for Newcomers

The team behind English Academy for Newcomers (EAN). I spoke with Phil — sitting in the front row, second from the right.

The team behind English Academy for Newcomers (EAN). I spoke with Phil — sitting in the front row, second from the right.


Ever since I started From Scratch, I’ve been looking for a charity or NGO to support on an ongoing basis.

While there’s an overwhelming number of good causes that caught my attention, I hoped to find an organisation that’s aligned with the From Scratch ethos of #noborders; intercultural & multilingual communication; and using linguistics in a practical way.

Lo and behold, one fine morning I found the perfect match — on Facebook!

English Academy for Newcomers is a young Dutch NGO, based in Utrecht. They’re a multicultural team supporting people from the most vulnerable places on the planet — with support from the Applied Linguistics team at Utrecht University.

I met EAN founder Phil Wozny for an interview about what it means to make a difference — and how we can help them succeed.


Tell me a bit about English Academy for Newcomers. What do you do?

English Academy for Newcomers (EAN) helps refugees and asylum seekers find stability in the Netherlands.

We do this by offering language classes and academic skills workshops so that they can meet the necessary requirements to enroll in a Dutch university.

In many ways, a Dutch diploma is a newcomer’s passport to the burgeoning job market.

Many asylum seekers come to the Netherlands with graduate degrees or years of professional experience.

However, due to language requirements, they cannot immediately apply their experience here.

By improving the English language skills of newcomers, we are giving them the tools to add value to their newfound communities.


Why did you guys start EAN?

The common complaint among those living in an asielzoekerscentrum (home for asylum seekers — AZC) is a lack of things to do during the day.

There are two excellent organizations that address the lack of activities: Welkom en Utrecht and InclUUsion. The former connects local Utrecht citizens who wish to organize activities with AZC residents who wish to partake in them. The latter places asylum seekers in university classes and connects them with a buddy.

While we were volunteering with Welkom en Utrecht, we met with the InclUUsion director, Dr. Elena Valbusa, who said that many InclUUsion students require auxiliary English language support in order to participate in their courses.

At the time, no one was offering English language classes in Utrecht.

So we gathered a group of concerned citizens and started offering English classes to newcomers.


What's the best experience you've had with EAN so far?

Bumping into former students on the Utrecht University campus.

Most of our volunteers are university students and staff. Our end goal is for students to take and pass the IELTS exam so that they can enroll in university.

When we see a former EAN student on campus, then we know that we’ve done our job.

What kinds of challenges have you had to overcome?

The biggest challenge is maintaining a steady organizational infrastructure in a student city.

The best English speakers and teachers in Utrecht are often international graduate students, who only stay in the city for six months to one year.

So, each semester a number of our students return to their home countries, and we have to reach out to a new group of volunteers.

Similarly, as we grow as an organization, our staff requirements have grown beyond just teachers.

Finding teachers is the easy part. On the other hand, finding web designers, accountants, and legal specialists requires a different strategy.

We’re working on diversifying our methods of outreach to contact the increasingly specialized target audiences we require.


What does "making a difference" mean to you personally?

For me, making a difference is doing what should have already been done if it were not for practical constraints, political pressure, and so on.

In an ideal world, asylum seekers would be granted the resources they need to be successful while they wait out bureaucratic proceedings.

Of course, this is not possible because the institutions responsible for their care and supervision are imperfect, financially limited, and do not exist in a political vacuum.

However, if our collective human capital can shift asylum conditions an inch closer to that ideal, then we are making a difference.

Though progress is slow, a little bit goes a long way. When just one student passes their IELTS exam and enters university, then they prove to everyone else who was on the fence that this is possible.


For all the people out there who want to make a difference — how can they support you?

The best support we can receive is labor, knowledge, and networks.

If you’re skilled in education, marketing, accounting or non-profit management, and you want to make a difference, then come and work with us.

If you’re skilled in the aforementioned fields, but don’t have time to work with us regularly, then you can still share your knowledge through consultation.

Even if you’re not knowledgeable in the relevant fields, someone in your network may be.

As such, a great way to help us make a difference is to reach out through your networks on our behalf.


Over to you

Do you know someone who’s great at marketing, accounting, education or non-profit management — and who might be willing to give some of their time to make a difference?

Please share this article with them.

To find out more, visit


Working together towards #noborders: Tejaswini Pawar (EAN Head of Marketing), Sabine Harnau (From Scratch) and Philip Wozny (EAN Founder & Administrator).

Working together towards #noborders: Tejaswini Pawar (EAN Head of Marketing), Sabine Harnau (From Scratch) and Philip Wozny (EAN Founder & Administrator).