Summer is a great time to be at Minsteracres. It’s not just that we’re very busy, but we also have the pleasure of welcoming volunteers who join us for several weeks or even months to help us cope with the extra workload.

Returning for a second year is Bernadett Csokay, a Hungarian high school student. Bernadett wants to train as a doctor and is keen to learn good conversational English, and what better way than to live and work with English people, she thought. She had reckoned without the international flavour of our community though, which currently embraces Dutch, Tanzanian, Polish, Chinese and Irish among its members.

All this is just fine with Bernadett. She is relishing getting to grips with all the accents in the four weeks she has with us. “I’m very happy. Last year I didn’t understand some of them very well, but I do now!” she says.

She found her way to Minsteracres through a colleague of her father’s. “My father’s friend had been on retreat at Minsteracres, and when he asked her for ideas about where to find volunteering she suggested I try here.

“I’m lucky to come here,” she says. “People are very patient and kind which is really good for a beginner. The first two weeks were difficult and very tiring, but by the third week it was much easier.”

Bernadett has been mostly occupied helping in the kitchen and dining room serving meals, clearing up, washing dishes and setting tables. As we rely on volunteers in the dining room, this has been invaluable. She has also helped in the garden.

Although considerably younger than most of the retreat centre’s other inhabitants, she has not been entirely without company of her own age. “There was a 23 year old in a recent group, which was lovely for me. I like it when we have children visiting too.”

There have been occasional outings. She visited Holy Island with a group and managed to catch the one warm, sunny day of the week. The same happened a while later when she went with some of the community to Tynemouth, stopping off for a meal in Newcastle’s China Town on the way home.

In her time off she likes to run in the grounds where she recently met a fox and she keeps up with family and friends on the internet. “Four weeks is a long time,” she muses. “I miss my boyfriend and my mum. I could have gone traveling with my friends straight after my exams. But I really wanted to improve my English, so I chose to come here instead.”

All is not lost though – she still has six weeks of vacation to go once she returns home so she will have earned a very welcome rest before starting her final year.