Part of the reason stereotypes exist in this world is due to the unknown, or a lack of understanding amongst different cultures. In my opinion, the best way to break this cycle is within the youth of this world, changing perceptions within the growing generations. I have always had a special place in my heart for children and teens, even picking a career path with hopes in becoming a clinical psychologists for adolescence. Due to the combination of my personal interests and belief in change starting with the world’s youth, I decided to volunteer at a local Italian high school.
Liceo Manara is a school in Rome, following students from ages fourteen to nineteen years old. Once a week in my Italian class, we are fortunate enough to have Italian high school students come to our sessions and practice a “language exchange” to gain more fluidity and comfort with the Italian language. This has been a great experience, allowing me to better understand daily hopes, dreams, struggles, activities, and sarcasm amongst these local teenagers, while also challenging me linguistically. After being contacted by my professor, I was given the chance to return the amazing favor to the Italian students. Every Tuesday I volunteer at Liceo Manara for an hour as an “English tutor”, exercising speaking and reading with the sixteen year olds. Although they do not have an official mission statement, the Professor in charge stated, “The main purpose of this language and culture exchange is to better prepare our students to enter the real world. Nowadays, Americanization is everywhere, they will have better chances at earning any job if they are conversational in the English language” (Ida Passarelli). This process truly breaks down barriers, as we are learning more and more about each other and joining together the bridge in which contains the “unknown”. Just as they are lending me their time, I have the heart-warming opportunity to do the same and exchange not only language, but also knowledge, ideas, cultural ideologies, beliefs, and norms. The spread of education consequently acts as the joining of cultures.
There are several benefits of volunteering, especially while living in another country. To begin, in order to be a productive member of society, you must somehow give back to your community. Volunteering your time does just this, and allows mutual respect to be rightfully achieved, instead of both parties expecting an immediate high regard. This concept goes hand-in-hand with the definition of the Global Community; being an active member by contributing useful knowledge and ideas while also gaining knowledge in return. As members of the Global Community, we must work towards understanding and respecting differences, celebrating similarities, and working collectively towards a better world.
Although my volunteer work may seem minute due to the severity of many of the global issues our world currently faces, I would not change it for anything. Especially after the stories were told of many young girls being neglected of an education in countries overseas in the documentary, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women World, I feel as though I am finding a small way to tackle this issue in my local community. I have learned to step out of my comfort zone and add something meaningful to a teenager’s life. A key point I will take from this service experience is primarily that cultural understanding and education does in fact bridge the world closer together. Slimbach further explains this concept saying, “This is the necessary basis for narrowing the distance—both physical and moral—between “us” and “them”, thus encouraging a more connected and responsive humanity” (2010, p. 23). Additionally, the world’s youth is our future, so it is extremely important to focus on improving and enriching their lives both in terms of education and empowerment. Furthermore, I cannot help but to notice how engaged these students are, enthusiastic and committed to learn a new language and ideologies. I was beyond shocked when they proposed having a conversation regarding the American Presidential Elections in which are currently taking place, fully aware of American current events. This is definitely a large difference in the United States, as American students naively believe that learning a foreign language and culture is not necessarily essential to their future success. Naturally, this is not a positive trait, as it is important to be aware and engaged in other cultures besides one’s own. This crosses over into adulthood, where most Italians here know a good amount of English, and attempt to communicate with Americans in our native tongue. On the flip side, American students rarely try to communicate with locals in Italian, simply assuming all foreigners understand and can speak English. By changing this lack of engagement and global participation in American students, I am confident that the world’s youth can gain a better mutual respect and cohesiveness together.
This volunteer experience largely changed and impacted my time abroad and as an individual, and still continues to do so as I further pursue my volunteer hours. Despite the fact that these students are a few years younger than myself, I have gained friends in whom I have met up with to get gelato and continue our exchange outside of the classroom. These are no longer strangers to me, just as I am no longer a stranger to them; we have become international friends. A friendship beginning solely with differences is very unique, something in which I have not yet experienced prior to this occurrence. These students have influenced my time abroad in ways in which are unexplainable, making me feel as though my time here was truly worthy. I only hope that I am assisting in adding fuel to the butterfly affect, helping a group of Italian youth flap their wings until they one day create a hurricane of change and global improvement, utilizing their language and cultural intelligence.
This week I have chosen two pictures in which best depict my current community service endeavors. The first picture on the left refers to the joining of the American and Italian culture through the unique opportunity of exchanging both language and ideas. By undergoing this process, citizens of both flags are able to cross over to globalization, in which the picture to the right represents. By becoming a well-rounded individual with increasing understanding, knowledge, and respect for other cultures, we gain power and are better equipped to participate and improve our global community. As Richard Slimach appropriately states, “The first step in this journey is to venture outside our comfort zones and get involve directly and personally in the lives of others, especially those occupying the margins of society…to create respectful and mutually beneficial relationships.” (2010, p. 23). Relationships cannot be developed, knowledge cannot be spread, and change cannot be created if we do not at first step outside of what is familiar into the unknown.
Slimbach, Richard. Becoming World Wise: A Guide to Global Learning (Stylus Publishing, LLC., 2010).