As I approach the halfway point of my service-learning program in Salamanca, Spain, reflections on how this experience has impacted and challenged me rush through my head. While interning at a local community library, opportunities to work alongside wonderful staff members who are consistently willing to lend a hand and share advice have been plentiful. The first day I ever stepped foot into the clean and orderly expanse of books, magazines, and movies, I was greeted by numerous friendly employees with open minds and open hearts.
A previous meeting with Isabel, the library supervisor, shed some light on what I would be doing; creating English learning workshops for children ages 4-7 entirely on my own. I would develop two of my own four-day workshops filled with activities, games, songs, and learning tailored to youth students. Although initially eager and excited, thoughts of “how in the world am I going to pull this off” crept in after day one of attempting to plan. I needed to think outside the box… how was I supposed to lead an English workshop with kids who could barely even read or write in Spanish?
To be successful in my efforts to plan an active workshop that supports the progress of learning in local children, I needed to develop and deploy effective solutions to minimizing our “disconnect.” As one twenty-year-old American student who barely speaks Spanish teaching fifteen four-year-old Spaniards, I needed to resort to innovation. This social innovation would require me to look at my host organization as a whole and explore what exchange of ideas and values benefited the students, the library, the overarching community of Salamanca, and myself the most. The notion of shared value resonated with me in that the goal of both my host organization and myself was to extend and strengthen understanding of different cultures and provide alternative perspectives on daily life and early childhood education. After almost two weeks of absorbing wisdom from my elder co-workers, I learned that shifting my role from a “confused and timid foreigner” to “confident and purposeful teacher” prevailed as most important.
As this library strives to improve literacy rates, attempts to increase community involvement, and places an emphasis on English learning, I chose to take initiative on this project offering a unique perspective of my own. While brainstorming dynamic and energetic activities for the young kids, I knew I wanted to take learning to the next level. My first step of social innovation was the generation of novel ideas and unconventional practices and techniques of teaching English. Even through limited resources, the development and production of my workshop tasks left me with hope for lasting results and influence on the community. The diversity in my tasks, my complex relationship with staff members, and my optimism has created irreplaceable aspects of my time here. Next week, my ideas and innovations can spread through social networks as I carry out my first workshop here at La Biblioteca Torrente Ballester. I am forever grateful to pass time in such a climate fostering originality, personal initiative, and support for social needs.
Your Discovery. Our People… The World Awaits.