The CEA Florence volunteer program CEA C’È (which means "CEA is there") provides students with opportunities to participate in local life and culture while giving back to their host city. Here, in the first of a series of posts on the CEA C'È initiative, student Diane Kim reflects on her time as a volunteer with the historic Florentine confraternity, the Misericordia.
My experience as a volunteer with Misericordia enabled me to see Florence from a perspective that I would have missed out on otherwise. Traveling around in ambulances, I got to see the outskirts of Florence and the residential areas. I met local Florentines, learned a lot of the dialect, became familiar with the hospitals in town and learned more about healthcare in Italy. Each week was a different experience. Usually it was a lot of waiting, but from sitting in the lobby or outside on the steps looking at the Duomo, I had the opportunity to get to know different volunteers and practice my Italian. Being in an environment where hardly anyone speaks English was challenging and rewarding at the same time. I would constantly make mistakes, and I used to get incredibly frustrated, but I’m coming to understand that constant practice, no matter what, is important when learning a language.
On my first day, I remember being nervous waiting for the bell that calls volunteers for a service, because I didn’t know what kind of assignment I would be given, or if I would be helpful at all since I couldn’t understand Italian very well. Ruby and I got sent out together and we escorted two elderly men to dialysis. One of them was in a wheelchair, and the other signore just needed someone to walk beside him. I remember being a bit confused because I wasn’t sure how I was going to help and it was my first time navigating the hospital. But after we escorted them to their respective rooms I was glad that I signed up to be a volunteer.
As the weeks went on I became more familiar with my surroundings and learned the ropes of volunteering, like where certain parts of the hospital were or how to assist with stretchers and wheelchairs. There were still some nerve-wracking (and some hilarious) incidents involving miscommunications when other people had to step in for me because I couldn’t understand instructions in Italian. When things like that happened I felt like I wasn’t being useful, but in the end I just felt more motivated to study Italian.
On my last day, I was sent out on a call to escort the same two elderly men that I had met during my first week. I was accustomed to helping them because I had seen them a number of times while volunteering, so I was a bit sad because I knew it would be my last time seeing them. But we assisted on the call as usual and it made me happy that Ruby and I knew exactly what to do. When we got back into the ambulance the paramedic told us we did a great job. He looked at me through the rear view mirror and told me that during his time working with Misericordia he had never seen a volunteer learn how to work the device that secures the wheelchair to the ambulance so quickly. His words meant a lot to me, because through them I realized how far I’ve come since I first arrived in Italy. A couple months ago I wouldn’t have been able to understand a single word he had said, yet here I was having a conversation in Italian.
I’m glad that I was able to give back to the community that has allowed me to grow in so many ways.
Diane Kim is an IR major at UC Davis. She studied with CEA in Fall, 2011.
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