My first day in the small community school of Los Pérez was full of excitement and anticipation. I went into my community placement open minded and unsure what to expect. I felt nervous but excited to meet the kids and finally see the kindergarten class where I would be carrying out my project for the next 3 months. Throughout the service-learning program we choose a research focus in our community which then is utilized to create a project which addresses the community’s needs. During recess, I was surrounded by kids ages 4-5 who were trying to figure out who I was and why I was there. They were eager to tell me their names, ask me questions, and make up games. One of the girls from my class tried to hang around my neck with one arm, pulling my hair with the other. Without thinking, I said “let go” in English and tried to set her on the ground. When she just smiled back at me in response and yanked harder, I quickly scanned my brain for ways to say “stop pulling my hair” or “let go of my neck” in Spanish. Realizing I could not say either of these expressions, I resorted to a simple “no, no!” and frantically tried to pull her off of me.
After that first day I was surprised by the difficulties I discovered while interacting with the kids. I had always assumed that talking to children in Spanish would be easier than talking to adults. However, that first day made me realize that with my new language acquisition I would encounter a whole new set of challenges and phrases which I had never needed in the past. The vocabulary I had acquired up to this point consisted of words and phrases that were helpful in a variety of situations with adults, or places such as grocery stores, universities, homes, and banks. I had studied how to get around town and tell someone what I wanted to eat, but I never learned the set of vocabulary that would be necessary to succeed in a disciplinary environment working with kids. I went home that day with a list of phrases to translate which would come in handy for my next visit including “one at a time,” “don’t kick each other,” etc. That day I learned a lot about adjusting previous expectations, and reconsidering language in the context of different settings. As I continue my time in the school, I will be learning alongside the children (as I work with them) and expanding my communication skills in order to more effectively interact with my new energetic friends.