06.11.2012 - 11.11.2012
One of my favorite inspirational quotes is “let people surprise you.” I’m not totally Anne Frank, believing that everyone is inherently good, but I’m at least willing to give them a chance. That being said, I was pleasantly awed the other day when I finally got around to observing one of our Casa HOY volunteers, Kay*, at an English teaching project. When Kay had first arrived she seemed nice, but she was quiet and a bit nervous about diving into what teaching in Cuernavaca actually entails. The first few weeks were overwhelming for her, and frustrated observations included the lack of class organization and teacher support. And while those factors haven’t changed (and won’t change…that’s why we need more volunteers!), Kay, and her expectations of teaching, most certainly have.
I have honestly never seen a volunteer exude such confidence in the classroom. Sure, we’ve had plenty of cocky volunteers (guys, mostly- you know how they can be) that later get out into their project and then freeze up. Just because you’ve volunteered somewhere else or taught at another school doesn’t mean it’s going to be the same here with the projects offered by Casa HOY. What I saw wasn’t boastful confidence, but rather a comfortable assurance of how things were going to go during those 45 minutes. Kay walked into the classroom and was immediately swarmed by little four and five year olds, clinging to her knees and yelling maestra, maestra. She got the kids to settle down by starting out with some songs- a song about colors, If You’re Happy and You Know It, and the Hokey Pokey. Children that can barely say their own name, let alone spell it, twirled around and exclaimed in perfect English “Hokey Pokey” every time. She had divided the 45 minute class up into 3 or 4 blocks of activities and themes to keep the kids’ attention. After a month of living in Mexico she could do commands in Spanish better than me. (I suck at commands…that’s why I just say “please” a lot). Kay knew everyone’s names, when to pay attention to them and when to let things go. When one child started to howl in our second classroom she just smiled and shrugged her shoulders, saying that it was nothing compared to when the whole classroom started howling one time when the teacher left the room. Do you know what to do when a classroom full of 20 four-year-olds starts howling?
It’s typical for volunteers to be overwhelmed their first week, and second week, and maybe even third week of volunteering. And if you don’t learn to be flexible and spontaneous you might always be overwhelmed. As Kay said, the most difficult thing to come to terms with is that of having to change your expectations. You’re in a new country with a different language doing something that most people have never done before. For many volunteers it’s their first time leaving the country, their first time traveling alone, their first time living with other people, their first time living on their own, their first time in Mexico. At my highly experienced age of 26, I sometimes forget what it’s like to live through all of these firsts. So you do have to let people surprise you (and be patient!). Watching Kay was an inspiring reminder of why we at Casa HOY do this work, and that as a volunteer, even though you might be exhausted, tongue-tied and feeling like things are out of your control, you CAN do this.