Thursday, December 20, 2012

Student Reflection

by Daniel Cox

[My apologies, this post appears out of order because I accidently posted it to a different blog. So, here is a look back at the earlier days of this semester and Daniel's experience with his community partner. --Ann Abbott]

My transition to the office

My community project this semester involves interpreting, translating, and general clerical work for the Frances Nelson Dental Center through Smile Healthy. I initially chose to complete my volunteer assignment through Smile Healthy because I had not previously used my Spanish in an office setting. Throughout my first three years at the University of Illinois, I’d spent several hours in a classroom setting, assisting ESL students and tutoring students in Spanish. That being said, Smile Healthy offered the opportunity to try something new:  working with Spanish speakers over 17 years old and using a set of vocabulary that I usually do not use.

One of the hardest challenges I’ve faced was adjusting to the medical terminology both in Spanish and English. During my first visit to the office, I only had to interpret for two families. While the first family required little assistance and was able to communicate efficiently in English, the second family needed significantly more assistance. The dental assistant asked me to tell the mother that the child had several cavities and to ask if she put him to sleep with a “sippy-cup”. I managed to figure out how to say cavities (as, fortunately, it’s a cognate, cavedades), but I had absolutely no idea how to say “sippy-cup”. I had to improvise to explain what I was trying to say, and fortunately the mother understood. However, the conversation required me to communicate an important message despite the fact I did not know exactly how to translate each word. Based on my experiences working in the community, both at Smile Healthy and in schools, learning how to communicate even when vocabulary barriers exist is essential to successfully using a language.

As I’ve become more comfortable in the office, the staff no longer has had to focus on training me how to complete small tasks or projects. Every Wednesday, the primary secretary gives me a list of tasks to complete when I arrive, and she knows to include additional instructions if they are not tasks I’ve completed in the past. These tasks include making reminder phone calls to Spanish-speaking patients, scanning extraction consent forms and assigning them to the appropriate file, and making appointments for Spanish-speaking patients as they leave the office. Of these tasks, I enjoy making appointments best because it allows for more interaction with the patients. At first, making phone calls was extremely daunting because it requires a verbal interaction without any of the visual or gestural clues of face-to-face interaction. Additionally, phone conversations generally follow the same script. I inform the patient of an upcoming appointment, they thank me for calling, and the conversation ends. In comparison, the possibility for (relatively) unscripted interaction during the face-to-face conversations is the main reason I prefer making appointments to calling with reminders.

After seven weeks of working in the office, I’m happy to say that I have adjusted to the routine and the steps required to complete my tasks, but I can still count on working with new people, learning new words or phrases, and using my Spanish to make many people’s dental care experiences even better.

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