Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Student Spotlight: Maggie O'Connor

by Ann Abbott

Maggie studied abroad in Quito, Ecuador and was a volunteer English teacher at a local elementary school. She did her CSL work as a classroom aid in the bilingual kindergarten classroom at Garden Hills Elementary as well as the SOAR tutoring program there. In addition, she worked at the Wesley food pantry.

Here are some of her reflections about her CSL work and her application for a Fulbright:

"The main thing that I learned from CSL that I will apply to law school and/or the Fulbright Scholarship should I receive it is that I know a heck of a lot less than I think I do. In other words, you are never really done learning something. 

"For example, I thought going into SPAN 232 that I knew all there was to know about community service learning after being a volunteer tutor already in Champaign and working at a local food pantry during high school. However, when we had group discussions about different forms of ESL, I was completely blown away that I had never understood why a class at an American school should be taught completely in Spanish when the students were supposed to be learning English. It totally made sense why students were struggling to learn math: they were learning it in English, and it was a concept they could hardly grasp in their native language. The concepts are much easier to translate once they are understood.

"I learned the importance of cultural influences and implications when speaking to someone in a different language; for example, one of the students I was trying to tutor hardly looked me in the eyes, which I just interpreted as being shy, but it turned out that she was Guatemalan, which [could have] meant that looking into an adult’s eyes was a sign of disrespect. It was not a language barrier but a cultural misunderstanding, and considering that angle helped me to work with her better and understand that she needed a little bit of extra help coming out of her shell.

"These are very broad generalizations, but overall I will definitely use the lessons of humility about how much I have to learn (especially when it comes to learning outside the classroom) and of how important it is to consider what lies beneath the surface of an issue or a cultural barrier. I used to think it was enough to be able to speak Spanish; when I go to Mexico or am studying law, I will remember that it takes exploration beyond the text to truly understand something and that considering something through another’s lens can entirely revolutionize your perception of a word, behavior, or action."  

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