Our society abounds with underutilised human resources for mediating linguistic practice and cultural learning resulting in agency. Learners of English as an Additional Language (EAL) whether migrants or international students frequently report difficulties in finding contexts to practice English outside the classroom (Wright, 2006). Using a framework based around language socialisation, this paper reports on a case study identifying what learners gain linguistically, culturally and ontologically from prolonged interaction with the elderly at a rest home in Auckland. Four Chinese women who had undertaken a 10-hour community placement as part of a BA programme were asked to live onsite as caregivers as a result of their successful work as volunteers during their community placements. This project uses these students’ reflective diaries from their first placement, plus the transcript of a focus group interview conducted during the time they were living onsite, to address key questions about how the rest home and the volunteer sector in general, impact on actuating practice into social learning. To “really practice” allowed the four to apply linguistic strategies taught in the abstract context of the classroom; to observe firsthand aspects of culture that resonated with the elderly; to report on what sort of language was used in the homes and for what purposes, and to emerge with the feeling that even they could “make a difference”.