I traveled to Valparaiso, Chile during the summer of 2016 for a total of 67 days. While abroad I took two classes, completing my Spanish minor. After the classes completion I stayed an additional four weeks to perform service in a school for children with disabilities.
During my time abroad I have learned the power of body language because the verbal language was a large barrier to me. In the States I depended on the power of my voice but while abroad I learned the power of a presence, to be there and to listen and react. My ability to understand Spanish is at a much higher level than my ability to speak. Sometimes this would be frustrating because I had things to say but was unable to express the ideas. However, through time I adapted to allowing the person to talk and for me to be a supportive presence.
The biggest relationship I had this experience with was my homestay mother. She had a lot of health issues and past experience she wanted to talk about. I at first wanted to add in on my life and what happens in the United States but I did not have the vocabulary to express those ideas. Instead I could only express sympathy through a minimal vocabulary which indicated I understood and just sat there listening, a service I could easily give to someone else. At first this frustrated me making me feel trapped in my head and unable to fully interact with the people around me but then it changed to be more of a observation experience in which case I could absorb so much more of what was around me.
Another relationship I had this experience with was at my service site. I could understand what the teachers were saying at lunch, from talking about middle names to what movies they cried in. However, by the time I deciphered all of it, formed an idea of what to add and figure out how to say it the conversation was three topics down. I know understand why it takes longer for some people to respond in a conversation where in the States I expected everyone to respond just as quickly as I was able to in English. This experience has allowed me to slow down and let people form thoughts that before I would have skipped because I was too focused on moving fast.
These life skills are important to me as a person because they are usable in any setting I choose to pursue in my future. I learned the power of being with someone and to not need to dominate the conversation but to focus on the other person’s needs. To allow the person to talk without adding a personal story to take the attention away from them. I acquired the skill to listen and patiently wait for someone who may not think or understand a language as rapidly as I can because I have now been on the other end of that. I have also learned the skill to communicate effectively in a language that I find extremely challenging, an ability I did not think I would ever attain. This has taught me to believe in myself more and the courtesy of making yourself feel uncomfortable for another person to feel comfortable.