by Jiyoon Chon
Throughout the past eight months, I’ve been constantly reflecting and thinking about the usefulness of my presence in my volunteer placement. To be honest, a lot of the times I actually didn’t feel that useful at all. A lot of the times, especially towards the beginning, I just sat on a chair off to the side of the classroom watching as the teacher gives class. During English classes was definitely when I felt like I could contribute the most—I jumped up at every opportunity I got when it seemed appropriate for me to get up and help. Even then, it was difficult finding the right balance between giving useful help and creating a dependency on my help. This was more apparent when I was in the first grade classrooms: some kids were brilliant and only needed a small clue to continue on their own, whereas others were completely clueless and lost all of the time. This got better as I got to know the children better, but I also had to learn how to see past the mischievous manipulation of some of the kids (a lot of them fake not understanding something so that I would help them and are REALLY good at it).
I also worried about being a distraction rather than a help in the classroom. I admit, sometimes I had momentary flushes of anxiety rush through me when some of the kids would try to talk to me instead of listening to the teacher in front of the classroom. There were also physical challenges. Even though I could function on even just four hours of sleep during high school, for some reason I find that if I get any less than a good seven to eight hours of sleep each night, I am completely dead the next day. I don’t know if it’s because working with kids requires a higher level of alertness and energy or because I’m not constantly engaged with work in front of me like I was in high school—but I think for sure, I’ve had days this year when I experienced the most mental fatigue I ever have.
Looking back, I’m really proud of myself. That’s also another thing I learned this year: to be proud of my accomplishments and to accept and congratulate myself as I am. Before, I always sought validation from others—my parents, friends, good grades, teachers, and so on. However, this year I had to learn how to give myself the validation and emotional support I needed, because even though I had a host family and amazing fellows that I’ve grown close with, nobody knew me as well as I knew myself.
Although I definitely haven’t been the most energetic, outgoing, and fun volunteer at my placement, I think I can say that I’ve contributed a lot in my own way. I’ve always been one of those shy kids who never spoke aloud much during class and felt intimidated by the rowdy boys. I think it’s really funny because I see those exact reflections of my younger self in a lot of the girls in the classes I work with, and those are the kids I really tried to get close to this year. A lot of them, surprisingly, opened up to me a lot this year and love to come talk to me about their dilemmas and latest news, and I’ve had many heartwarming moments when they tell me, “Tu eres la mejor profe!!”
I’ve also filled in for a second-grade teacher while she was away on her honeymoon for two weeks. I’m now confidently able to control a fourth grade classroom and give spelling tests and dictations, and I’ve even won the hearts of a lot of the boys in my first grade classroom when they discovered that I could draw them cool motorcycles and pirate ships!
The past eight months in el Colegio Santa Maria la Blanca have been a roller coaster ride, but I’ve developed such special relationships with a lot of the kids—Luis, who comes running up to me with the biggest smile and gives me a bear hug when he sees me during recess, Maria, who constantly tries to teach me new Spanish words and insists that she hold my hand while we walk in the hallway, and Jaime, who flashes me a shy smile and a wave when he sees me while playing soccer. I’m really really going to miss them after I leave.