Giving Back

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Giving back makes traveling richer!

One advantage of leading trips and teaching Spanish classes abroad is to be able to interact with the locals and explore other cultures.  This interaction is also a key part of the Spanish classes I teach abroad.  We learn Spanish for a logical reason: to communicate.  But with that communication, we also get the opportunity to connect.  During class activities as well as free time, we intentionally talk with people on the street and in the stores, we get to know the culture, and we have meaningful experiences.  Whether it is to initiate connection or to show gratitude for a connection made, I make it a point to give back to the communities that have welcomed us.

In Sayulita, I have grown particularly drawn to a group of children who hand make (felt, sew, stuff) colorful animal figures, and sell them on the street.  I have bought many of their handmade crafts.  However, always return to these kids because I want to interact with them and give back to them.  They do not go to school, and are required to work from a young age.  They speak Spanish and other indigenous languages.  In addition, they are clearly artistic and very fluent with color, but they have limited resources, education, art supplies, or toys for themselves, despite being surrounded by art and toys.  They were overjoyed when I passed along to them all of my art & educational supplies, from the week of teaching, to them.  Handing each of them their own packages of markers, and seeing their happiness, was a huge joy for me.  My goal for the coming years in Sayulita, is to bring them more art and educational materials.  Therefore, a portion of the profits from each Experience Core Fluency Abroad trip in Sayulita goes towards art and educational supplies for these children.

A normal part of Core Fluency classes abroad involve a lot of conversation and interaction with the locals.  The obvious reasons for this “off road class” and our guided activities in the local towns and out of the classroom are for the students to practice Spanish, to get over their fear of talking, and to build their core fluency in Spanish.  However, I also want the students to have a connection and that special experience that goes beyond being a tourist.  So, I plan ahead, and I put “gifts for locals” on their required packing list.  Gifts are a learning tool, as important as a grammar book, for their language acquisition.  Gifts are also a connecting tool for their experience abroad.  And we know that personal connection also sets the language in place in our memories, nestles it in the subconscious, and makes us be able to recall it later.  Yes, packing a gift is more important than packing a dictionary.

One item on the packing list for students is postcards of their home town or state.  Postcards (or mini photo calendars) are cheap, easy to pack, lightweight and take up no room, and are worth a thousand words.  They are incredible conversation starters, and students feel they are able to share a personal part of themselves and their home and environment (snowy mountains or big city skyscrapers) with their new friends abroad.  Simple postcards easily provide a way to give, sharing culture and stories, and initiate conversation.  Pictures also are helpful for conversation, when one is just learning Spanish, and has a limited vocabulary.  Students do not just hand them out without thinking to strangers on the street.  Students give them out mindfully to people with whom they have befriended during the trip, children, people that invited us into their homes or to a cup of coffee, and to store owners seen daily as they bought their daily bread or coffee.  In this way, postcards, although small, turn into being a huge act of kindness and personal giving in another country.

In addition to just meeting people on the street, I arrange times for the Core Fluency classes to meet and spend time with locals through previous connections.  One year in Sayulita, we (my class of teachers from Denver and I) met a family in San Pancho, near Sayulita, who were cousins and siblings with a family in Colorado who I knew.  We bridged the gap between the family members in Basalt, Colorado and San Pancho, Mexico.  They introduced us to a traditional Mexican dinner on the beach at sunset, invited us into their home, and introduced us to the whole family. Once back in Colorado, I connected with the Colorado family members and shared pictures of our family visit in Mexico. Everyone, especially the brothers and sisters who hadn’t seen each other for years, were grateful for the pictures, the stories, and the connecting friendships.

I look forward to finding more ways to give back to the local communities as Core Fluency’s Spanish classes and Experience Core Fluency Abroad trips continue to explore additional locations and cultures.

Plus, we give back to the communities where we teach:

 

In November 2011, Core Fluency was chosen and recognized by Denver’s Channel 7 News, during their social media contest, for our donation of “Language Immersion Courses.”  It was an honor to be chosen and to be able to give back to Denver!

 

 

 

 

 

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