The community service event that I chose to participate in was one that was organized by the program that I am here with, API. API set up an opportunity for us to volunteer at a school as English teacher assistants. We were able to go into an English class and help the teacher as she taught an English class, we were even allowed to read some passages in English and to help with pronunciation of many words. The teacher explained to me how important it is for these Spanish students to learn English because it will help them so much both now and later on in life because English is such a common language and a language that is spoken by almost everyone. For example, if these students travel to the Czech Republic and do not know how to speak Czech, they will communicate with the Czech people in English. At the school, English is required for students and I was very impressed with how well they were able to speak English. The experience that I had with these students was one that I will never forget. I felt like this added so much to my study abroad experience because I was so nervous before volunteering because I felt as if my Spanish was not very good but the students were so reassuring and even helped me with my Spanish while they were all learning English. The students were so excited to have me there and were so enthusiastic about learning English which made me so excited to be there and made me want to go back.
Since being here, I have noticed the Spanish people are much more openly touchy with each other. When greeting each other, everyone gives besos, or two kisses, one on each cheek. Even boys will greet other boys like this, which is very different from the United States because in the United States boys never show affection towards other boys because it can seem as being “weird” or almost “weak”. I like that people are so open about touching and greeting here because it is so much more personal and sweet. It makes me feel so welcome everywhere that I go. I definitely find myself adapting to being more openly touchy because before coming here I really did not like a lot of touching because I am a bit shy but I have really adapted to giving besos and have even learned to love it, I think many other students feel the same way as well.
There are so many benefits that we all gain from volunteering, especially abroad. The most important benefit to me was the satisfaction I felt from volunteering. I felt such a sense of pride and importance, it felt nice being so appreciated by these students. I also felt like I learned more about the Spanish culture because I was able to see how a classroom was run in Spain and what students are like in classes as compared to American students. The classes were a lot more easy going I found than American classrooms. I also feel like volunteering abroad is beneficial because I gained language skills during this short experience. If I was able to volunteer on a weekly or biweekly basis, I think my language skills would improve tremendously. I also think if more people volunteered abroad this would help to eliminate so many stereotypes because people would be able to get such a deeper glance and perspective in the people of a certain country or area, which would go toward our class definition of being a Global community.
There are many things I will take from this experience. The first is how much I love volunteering and how much I think that everyone who travels abroad should take the time of out their trip to volunteer. This will give everyone a much less “touristy” experience and a much more deep felt experience because they will see so much more into the culture of the country they have entered into. Also, something I will take from this experience is how much I love helping people and how I know I am in the right major. Being a physician assistant will give me so many more opportunities to help people and opportunities to help people abroad which feels so good. The picture I have posted is one of me and Kristen, who also volunteered, in front of the school we volunteered at. This picture and experience reminds me of the quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Everyone can be great, because everyone can serve.” I feel as if by serving, you become great because when you help other people you are doing the most important thing in the world that you can do.