Service-learning in Valparaíso involves a long list of challenges and benefits for the service-learning participant and host community. In the face of challenges, it is easy to feel discouraged and uncomfortable; however, through any difficulty that may arise, it is important to remember that each challenge is a learning lesson and has a silver lining.
As a non-Chilean whose second language is Spanish, I found that communicative and cultural barriers posed the largest challenge through my service-learning experience in Valparaíso. Chilean Spanish is infamous for the rapid speed at which it is spoken and its various colloquialisms that catch foreign ears off guard. Thus, especially at the beginning, comprehending Chileans was a major hurdle.
At my service-learning organization, I worked with children who incorporated colloquialisms into their everyday speech and conversed at a pace too quickly for me to fully comprehend. This challenge, however, turned out to be a positive learning experience. I learned how to leverage contextual clues to guess what an individual was saying, and even though I guessed incorrectly sometimes, I was typically able to know what a child or supervisor was communicating.
Understanding and adjusting to the unique culture of my host organization was also a challenge I faced during my service-learning experience. There was a theme of spirituality underlying the various workshops that the volunteers administered to the children. Expressing gratitude and appreciating ancestral blessing through songs or myth were common practices at my service-learning site. As I was not accustomed to this spiritual mentality, it was difficult for me to actively participate in these activities. However, with time, I came to see the value in utilizing spirituality in daily activities– it created a medium that helped the children realize the deeper meaning of the workshops.
In terms of benefits, engaging in cross-cultural exchange was rewarding for both myself and the host organization. Discussing games and activities that the children and myself liked to play bridged gaps between us. We both were able to come to the realization that, despite growing up on opposite ends of the Earth, we had more similar lives than we thought!
Witnessing the joy brought to the children and families that came to the play center was also rewarding. Because Valparaíso lacks recreational spaces for children to play in their free time, the play center represented a haven for children to get together and express their creative selves. Having grown up in an area with an abundance of parks and green spaces, I did not understand the true importance of play areas until I volunteered at the center. I was able to expand my previous knowledge about factors that are conducive to positive child development and came to realize that recreational spaces are a catalyst to healthy social and emotional growth.
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