Service-Learning and Community Service
For my STEP Signature Project, I went to Lima, Peru with the non-profit Cross-Cultural Solutions. I taught English, reading comprehension, and fine-motor skills to students in a village outside of Lima. We also spent a week teaching about the importance of dental hygiene and how to maintain healthy teeth, which culminated in a visit from dental students and dental check-ups for each student.
My biggest transformation I underwent from this trip almost went unnoticed until two weeks after I returned from my trip. In the past few weeks, there has been a lot of political and social unrest surrounding immigrants to the United States and ICE. As I saw many of the children being taken from their parents, detained, and even people in my hometown being arrested, I began to feel incredibly upset. All I could think about is how these children being affected by immigration were not so different than my own children I was teaching in Peru. I was so moved by some of these actions that I decided to go out and volunteer in my hometown as well, by bringing non-perishables and hygiene items to those affected by ICE and immigration laws. Before this trip, I’m not sure how I would’ve felt, and I’m definitely not convinced that I would’ve gone out to help back at home either. But, having met these kids and their families and seeing what true poverty is like, I completely understand why people would do anything, including breaking laws, to come to the United States and help their families. Seeing my students in these kids being taken from their families made me realize how real this situation was and it motivated me to act, to try and stand up for those whose voices have been silenced.
One of the experiences I had in Peru that lead to this change was seeing first-hand the consequences of domestic violence. In the village I worked in and Peru as a whole, domestic violence and gender-based violence is incredibly prevalent. One morning, a mom brought her kids to school and was moved to tears because of an altercation that occurred between her and her husband. She told the teachers she was so upset by the violence and had no way to escape it, as her job did not pay well enough and he brought in most of the income. The teacher’s attempted to give her emotional support, they discussed some of her options moving forward, and even asked me to focus a lesson on anti-violence and the importance of being thoughtful and nice to each other. Although I hadn’t yet connected this to the immigration problems in the U.S., I saw how devastating many family situations can be and I couldn’t even begin to imagine not being able to help myself and my family if I were in a bad situation, but I knew I’d do anything to try and help myself.
My world view also changed from seeing the effects of extreme poverty. Although I have often seen poverty by the United States standards, I had never seen poverty quite on this level. Many people could not afford electricity, clean water, windows, doors, and the roofs were often falling apart. After witnessing the struggle’s faced by these families, I began to understand the magnitude of this problem. Impoverishment was no longer just an abstract concept in my head that I was far removed from, this was real life. I sympathized more with people who have the need to leave their countries to the United States where they could have a chance at a better life because as I said before, I would do do the same thing if I were them if it meant providing a better life for my family.
One of my many motivation’s for going on this trip was to improve my Spanish-speaking skills. I originally chose Spanish as a minor because I really loved the language but, I also found while shadowing in hospitals that often times when Spanish-speaking patients came into the hospital, many of the doctors and nurses had no way to communicate with their patients so a translator was necessary. For many, going to the hospital can already be a frightening experience, add the fact that these people were unsure what the doctor was saying/ going to do to them, I imagine that would be an incredibly stressful experience. So, at that point, I decided I would become fluent in Spanish so that I would never have to add extra stress into some of my patient’s lives. Since I have my Spanish minor, I decided it was necessary that I go to a country where Spanish is the official language. My first day in Peru, I was nervous and overwhelmed. By nobody’s standards would I say I was fluent when I first arrived in Peru but being surrounded by Spanish, it was like my brain just switched and I hit the ground running. Studies have shown that the best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in it, and after going to Peru I can one-hundred percent vouch for this. By the end of my trip, I was having full conversations with strangers. I learned so many words and understood so much better how sentences are formed and how people speak to one another, I even had multiple people act shocked when I told them I was an American because they could hear no accent when I spoke. The speaking skills I learned while there are invaluable. I also learned that I was so much better at Spanish than I ever would have guessed. My ability to assimilate surprised even me, but I was so proud of myself for being so willing to engage people and learning so much, something I would’ve never done had I not gone on this trip. I have come home a completely different person, I’m so much more confident in myself and my abilities.
I found that I gained the most experience and learned the most during daily conversations I would have with people. For example, my driver to and from the work site was a native Peruvian and only spoke Spanish. To be able to interact with him, I had no choice but to speak Spanish. With a little bit of humility and a lot of practice, I was able to learn so much. By the second week, he was telling my program director that I was a great speaker. These changes were so gradual, but by the end of the trip when I was approaching people on the streets to have conversations, I knew I was a completely different person. Before this trip, I would’ve been too embarrassed to make mistakes that I wouldn’t have even spoken Spanish, but when that was my only option, I adapted and flourished.
Another interaction that really helped me become more confident in myself and Spanish abilities was teaching. At my placement, I was given an hour every day to plan and teach a lesson all on my own. This would be a daunting task even in English, as I’m not an education major, add the fact I wasn’t even teaching in my native language. Being thrust into this position, I had to learn to acclimate quickly. After the first few days, I was having no trouble teaching my lessons in Spanish and I was speaking with all of the kids during class. I realized from teaching that the only way to be successful with speaking Spanish was to overcome my fears by simply doing. By being in front of a class everyday for an hour, I was so much more confident in myself as well. The improvement in my Spanish lead to an improvement in how I carried myself. Seeing such a positive transformation in yourself really helps you to see your capabilities and improves confidence by a ten-fold.
The changes I’ve undergone while in Peru will be invaluable to my future. Not only am I more confident in myself, which will translate to almost every area of my life, but I am a better Spanish-speaker, and I have a better view of the world as a global-citizen. My improved Spanish skills will be used here at Ohio State inside the classroom as well as in my career as a healthcare provider, where I will be able to better communicate and care for my patients. Outside of my professional life, knowing another language also equips me to be conscientious of other cultures and is already helping me make an impact in my community and beyond with volunteering. As a global citizen, I’m also more aware and sympathetic to the plights of others around the world. I have a different view of the world which helps me understand things beyond how they appear to the average person from the outside looking in.
Ohio State at Machu Picchu
With my students in Villa Maria del Triunfo