Volunteering in a High School

By Camille Dirago - NHS, 2016

     I volunteered for two hours per week at the high school Instituto Venancio Blanco. I had one class of students that were about 13 years old and one class of Formación Profesional students that were mostly in their early 20’s. I do not plan to go into education later in my life or become a teacher, so I mainly chose to volunteer because I was so used to participating in some kind of community service or even just extracurricular activities in general at Georgetown that I wanted to continue what I’m used to and thought it would be interesting to see Spain’s education system. Once I started volunteering and got to know the students and teacher, it became a lot more than that.

     The older class’s English was at a relatively low level, but it didn’t change our ability to communicate. I also felt like part of the reason we were able to become friends despite a language barrier was because we had kind of an unspoken bond and understanding due to the fact that I was part of the same generation as them and all of us were in phases of our lives where we plan for the future.

     In the younger class, behavior was often an issue. I noticed a big difference between what is considered acceptable in schools in Spain and schools in the US. Once I got used to having to shout more than expected and was able to see that it wasn’t disrespect causing them to act up but rather them exhibiting what is considered normal school-kid behavior, I was actually able to really engage the class and by the end we both looked forward to the days when I came to teach.

     By the end I realized that volunteering at Venancio Blanco was a really valuable experience in my larger experience of studying abroad because it taught me a lot about what growing up in Spain is like, as well as Spanish culture in general. I learned a lot about how different my life is from the life of a Spanish student with exactly the same credentials as me just because I come from the United States and they are from Spain. I also learned a lot about how speaking English is viewed by countries with a different national language, and how it is viewed as a door to success by people wanting to learn English to have larger opportunities later in life. It was a really humbling experience in that respect, and even though I volunteered to help teach people English, the things that my classes at Venancio Blanco taught me were priceless lessons as well.