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Volunteering Abroad: Not as Selfless as it Sounds

 The architect of schools in Spain is more
interesting than the typical American school.
And usually older.

Studying and living in Granada has been the most mind-opening experience in my life. I've gotten to know so many amazing people. One of the ways CEA has helped me branch out is through providing volunteering opportunities. There are several opportunities to give back to the Granada community, such as meet with the homeless, spend time with the elderly, volunteer in a hospital, or, what I chose to do, volunteer in a bilingual school.

I volunteer in a middle school music class. Although the school is bilingual, everything turns into Spanish. It's kind of fun because it reminds me of my Spanish classes in the U.S. where we try to speak in Spanish but it somehow always ends up in English. It´s also fun because I get to see how much my Spanish has improved during my time here. Before, I couldn't keep up with a conversation with a lot of people chiming in, but now I still know what's going on.

Like I said, I volunteer with a music class one hour a week. I am not a musician, I took about three months of piano lessons when I was little and that's about it. But I'm learning that I don't have to be Mozart to teach middle schoolers about music. The most important part is that the kids learn the vocab in English, which is something I can help with. My most important role has been to help them with pronunciation in English.

So far, each day has been a little different. Last week we spent most of the class correcting the homework from the day before, which was a combination of learning the names for different notes in English, and the different combinations of notes, such as two eighth notes equal a quarter note. My main job was to guide the students in correcting the homework and correct their pronunciation.

 I can't take pictures of the kids I teach
but the classrooms are pretty typical,
you get the point.

There is something humbling about studying abroad in a country with another language. I've met foreign students in the United States before but I never realized how hard it must be to learn another language and pronounce it like a native speaker. I would get frustrated when I couldn't understand someone's accent without considering how frustrated the other person must feel. Now, hearing my students in the middle school learning English I feel like I have a lot more compassion for them. I know how hard it is to remember words in another language and not understand how certain letter combinations sound.

My volunteering isn't completely selfless. I actually feel like I have learned a lot more from volunteering than I have taught to the kids. I'm learning vocabulary about music and instruments at the same time as brushing up on my music knowledge. Plus, have you ever had to boss around a room of 30 middle schoolers? Well, let me tell you, it takes a certain kind of confidence that I have never had to practice before. My experience volunteering has opened my eyes to just how much my teachers do for me. Every day I become more convinced that I may return to the same life in the United States, but after this experience I will never see the world in the same way.

Amber Johnson is the Fall 2014 CEA MOJO in Granada, Spain. She is currently a junior at Colorado State University.

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