Academic Community Service: Contextualizing your volunteer experience
When I enrolled in this class I did so because I wanted to get involved in the Spanish-speaking community—something I had already been striving to do independently in the past—and get enough credits to graduate at the same time. I must admit that my very pragmatic mindset at the beginning of this course has changed substantially as I have come to realize the tremendous benefit of supplementing volunteer work with academics. Certainly service work is foundational to this class, but it can be greatly enriched when paired with practical learning objectives to both improve your Spanish and contextualize your volunteer experience.
As I mentioned in a previous blog, there are many areas of Spanish that I am quite rusty with—primarily rattling off colloquial expressions, grammatical changes with Usted, or even basic vocabulary I learned in middle school. (The other day I had to ask kindergartener how to say ‘balloon’, which is ‘el globo’, of course.) Exercises done in class such as going over mandatos, basic math equations, or re-learning how to write and understand large numbers have been really helpful in enhancing my volunteer experience. (Though my students are still working on writing the number 5, I'm sure practicing numbers above 1000 in Spanish will pay off for me in the future!) These are basic grammatical concepts and vocabulary I’ve learned so long ago and yet have had little contact with since. How often have I needed to say “el globo” or “dos mas dos son cuatro” in upper-level Spanish classes? Almost never. And yet, it is words like these that volunteers come across every day at their sites. For this reason, I’m grateful that this class provides brief reviews and exercises of basic yet important Spanish grammar rules and vocabulary.
Moreover, the academic component of this class has been crucial in contextualizing my experience as a volunteer—that is, reflecting on my experience while becoming more knowledgeable about the community that I serve. An important theme in the class has been recognizing cultural differences in order to maintain open minds and broaden understanding about the people that we work with. This has meant many things from reviewing how to speak respectfully to strangers to reflecting on the subjectivity and diversity of knowledge production in the education system. It is important to be aware and open-minded of cultural differences we may come across as volunteers. In that same vein, it is imperative that volunteers are aware of events and news that may be affecting the community. Last week, for instance, the class schedule was altered so that we could discuss the news of a recent raid at a local grocery store in which several people were detained by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement for not having immigration or citizenship documents. We discussed the gravity of this event for the Latino community, both documented and undocumented, and how we would respond to the event as volunteers as well as caring neighbors. Further discussion of immigration legislation such as Deferred Action and the Dream Act has broadened our understanding of the struggles that undocumented Latinos face every day. With these academic discussions, we are forced to reflect on our roles as volunteers, and also as global citizens. We must stay up to date on current events at local, national, international levels in order to to maintain an awareness of the community; with this knowledge and awareness we can then situate our personal experiences within this moment and improve on our role as volunteers.