The summer before I came to came to college I had a very unique experience when I volunteered to be a crew leader at my church’s annual vacation bible school. I worked as a crew leader for VBS since I was about 12 and was too old to attend VBS myself, but this year I had a special experience that made a lasting impression in my life. A young, eight year old boy from Mexico showed up on the first day of VBS. His family had recently moved to the United States and he spoke very little English. After he was dropped off, he refused to go inside the sanctuary to the opening ceremony where the other children were singing and dancing. Our children’s director pulled me out of the sanctuary to see if I could find out what was wrong because he couldn’t communicate with anyone and I was the only volunteer who had any experience speaking Spanish. (I had just finished my fourth year of high school Spanish.) I was nervous because I had never had a real conversation in Spanish other than with my high school Spanish teacher who was an American. I went over to the boy, his name was Pablo and he was rather adorable, and I came up with the best words I could to ask him what was wrong. He ended up giving me this very elaborate and rapid explanation of which I did not understand a word. After realizing that I only spoke some Spanish he slowed down his speech. However, he ended up clicking with me and spent the whole week with our group. I spent the whole week speaking to rest of my group in English and to Pablo in Spanish, and for me, that was really cool, and I realized that I could use my Spanish effectively. But, what was really awesome for me was watching this scared, sad boy who felt left out because he couldn’t communicate with the other kids like they could with each other, make a grand transition and by the end of the week he was playing with all the other kids laughing and smiling.
This experience has a great impact on my life because I knew that putting the effort to speak in his native language made him feel comfortable enough to open up to me, which allowed him to grow through the experiences that week. That little boy brought so much joy to my life, and I felt I learned so much from him. I admired Pablo’s courage and his heart. I can’t imagine at his age being in a completely new place with completely new people and not being able to communicate with any of them. Also, it was because of this experience that summer that I decided to become a Spanish major, and it is also why I got involved in English as a Second Language (ESL) tutoring. Spending that week with Pablo made see capabilities in myself that I didn’t even know were there, and it made me realize that I want to help people who move to this country but don’t speak English fluently. I will always encourage the continued use of one’s native language even when they move to a foreign country, but I realize how scary it can be to survive in this country, when you don’t know English very well, and I want to help people have a better experience living here.
Catie Duckworth ’14, Special Projects