Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Student Reflection

by Charlotte Piwowar

Sharing with Classmates

Time is quickly slipping away as we get towards the end of the semester, and I can’t help but feel like it’s all just begun—especially with my work in the community!  I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my time at Champaign Central, and since I’m there at the same time every week, I’ve gotten to know more and more about the students that come in regularly.  Something that I’ve really enjoyed, though, is how the Spanish in the Community class is winding down.  We’ve been able to reflect and share more about our experiences with our classmates, talking about how our feelings have grown or changed (both with respect to our Spanish skills and to the people we work with), what has surprised us or what we’ve learned of the communities we work in, and what sorts of challenges we’ve confronted.

Two other people in my class also volunteer in the same classroom that I do, and so it has been especially interesting to talk with them about their time there.  We’ve had a lot of similar experiences, and have encountered some of the same problems and challenges—how to best help the students who have the most limited English skills, but whose native language we also don’t speak, and what we do when students are goofing off, for example.  We’ve shared opinions about what the school and program could use to really improve and help the students better.  It’s always fun to talk about when we’ve had an especially positive experience too.

One of my fellow Champaign Central volunteers asked me how this experience compared to when I was in Ecuador.  I’m still not quite sure what aspect he was referring to, but it really got me thinking about what it’s like to be somewhere where you’re expected to do almost everything—no matter how simple or complex the task—in your non-native language.  I think that having been in a similar situation has been something that has really helped me while in the classroom with these students.  It’s taught me to be more patient, and, surprisingly enough, to recognize what may and may not be helping facilitate things a little better.  I can sometimes tell when a nod and a “mhmm” indicate true understanding or are just a way to fake it—because I would often times do the exact same things!  I think that it has also given me a little leverage with some of the Spanish-speaking students who are having more difficulties; I tell them how I too, had to grapple with a lot of the same types of issues that they are confronted with.  While it wasn’t always easy, and my language skills still can keep improving, I try to encourage them to see that it is something that they too, can do, if they just keep at it.

However, I wish that I would have gotten to hear more about what other students are doing though during the course of the class.  We’ve spent so little time reflecting, relative to the length of the semester, and even with such a small class it seems like we never get to hear about what everybody is doing.  People are working in such different places—the refugee center, elementary schools, offices, even teaching Catechism classes—that there is a wide range of types of people they are meeting, giving them opportunities to witness so many different lives and realities.  Nonetheless, it has been great to get a glimpse into these other worlds that are so different from my everyday life, and I am very glad to have had taken a course that gives me such a unique chance.

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