Before arriving to KSDC and beginning classes, I did not know the English levels of the students. I can say now that they were much lower then I expected. Some students struggled to answer questions like “What is your name?” or “How are you doing?” I was anxious to get past the beginning introductions and shyness. I wanted to be apart of the community and make friends. I realized the language barrier was a lot greater than I had anticipated.
First of all, in class activities needed to be changed. The assigned textbook for the classes were much too complex for the English levels of the students. With paragraphs about clubbing in Bangkok, mortality rates in Swaziland and fast paced recorded dialogues the students were visibly confused and uninterested. As well as the contents of the textbooks being so far displaced from the reality of these students, with no mobility rights and coming from a rural lifestyle, I felt very uncomfortable using this textbook. So, we developed (and are continually developing) our own curriculum and assignments where we teach day-to-day vocabulary localized for life at KSDC. Being able to name the objects around you and speak about your daily activities, directions, ingredients, and emotions allows for conversations and a useful and usable knowledge of the English language. Learning a language is always difficult, teaching a language without a common language, also difficult. Over the past 3 months I have become friends with many of the students by spending time in and outside of class together, how are friendships developed without deep conversation?
Everybody has many different types of friendships. That close friend who you’ve known for many years, the friend you call after a hard day, the friends you see for coffee every once in a while and catchup on life with. To most people friendships mean someone who knows you, who you can trust, someone who’s company you enjoy, and someone you can spend time chatting with. In life, I think it’s rare to call someone a friend if you haven’t spent some time getting to know them and engaged in dialogue. Reflecting on how my friendships at KSDC developed there are some key pieces I recognize.
I am now a charades champion. Sometimes it feels like I am training for a theater. Over pronunciation, extreme facial expressions and gestures. Body language and facial expressions do so much to get your point across. Not only is using body language and expressions helpful for conveying your message but also makes situations feel less serious. The students love laughing at (and with) Josh as he visually explains things like what “shouting” means, “sour”, or “walking into”. I think the more times you laugh with people the faster you become comfortable with one another. When unable to get our point across with our actions we have done a lot of quick drawings. Pictionary in books, on arms, or whiteboards. I love the moment when there is an understanding and everyone’s synchronous “Ahhhhh” with head nods. Sometimes it is the students doing this and sometimes it is us. When we’re unsure of a word someone is pronouncing, then 3 or 4 students try to get the pronunciation across and finally there is a mutual understanding. “Ahhhh!” I love it.
We have played many games in and outside of the classroom. Spending time together and having fun without needing to speak. We’ve played English language games on phones, video games, group games outside and sports. We’ve shared strange things we’re able to do. “Teacher can you move your ears?”, “Can you bend your finger this way?” People can be together in a group laughing and contributing but without dialogue. My favorite is sharing language. Sitting with students during lunch and asking “How can I say this in your language?” Usually there is laughter because of mispronunciations. It gives a chance for students to teach teachers a language and it brings students in like nothing else. Students that would usually be shy and secluded come together to join in on sharing their language. The students speak many different dialects so everyone has something different to say.
The most important part of my developing these friendships is just being present. In the beginning it was daunting and honestly a little bit awkward to go sit downstairs in silence with 30 people all talking around you. It felt like complete separation. In moments like that it is so easy to stand up and go back to the comfort of being alone. 90% of the time after a few minutes someone would start talking to me. With time we all became comfortable with one another. Now I do not hesitate to join in groups, wander into the classrooms or start conversations. I have learned so much about the students and so much from them. My friendships with the students is my favorite part of being at KSDC and I am going to miss all of them so dearly.
Building friendships with language barriers has taught me how to sit comfortably in silence, simply being in someone’s presence without the pressure for words. At home I may be outgoing but can also be reclusive and keep to myself. Being a teacher and facilitator here has really showed me the capability I hold to be extremely outgoing, open, and to use my energy to encourage others. As the “teacher” there is no room for me to be reserved, reclusive, or withdrawn. I have come to realize that teaching and sharing knowledge, facilitating others, and introducing activities gives me a lot of energy and therefore energy to share back.
KSDC is run by the students – they cook, clean, hold weekly meetings, and are the life of this organization. They are so resilient, strong, dedicated, funny, and caring. I am halfway through my internship and feeling even more dedicated to my position and the students, more comfortable and familiar in my environment, and so so happy to be here.