Reflections about service and learning in Lynn.
Over the past semester (Spring 2011), I have been helping to teach English as a Second Language at the Catholic Charities' Asian Center in downtown Lynn through The Great Conversation. Without a doubt, it has been one of the most dynamic experiences I have had so far at Gordon.
I will admit that I began Gordon in Lynn somewhat apprehensively. I was especially anxious about having to teach a classroom of adults. Questions filled my mind. Would they listen to me? Would they be able to understand me, or would I just make the situation more difficult? How would this community service be any different than ones I had done before? But the work we have participated in at Catholic Charities has far exceeded any doubts or expectations. It was an astonishing thing to me just how close a community we were working in. The classroom was not just a room full of acquaintances that met twice a week; it was made up of closely-knit groups of friends who had a real thirst for learning English. The work ethic that the students possessed was inspiring. Here they were, attempting to learn what I believe is one of the most difficult languages to learn as a second language, and yet the joy they exuded was deeply moving.
The patience that they had not only with learning, but also with me was perhaps the most striking and humbling aspect of the time we spent there. I remember vividly the day we arrived and I was informed that the teacher for my class was not there, and I would have to teach the class alone. I recall fumbling along for an hour and a half, trying to explain some grammatical concept that I could barely remember from primary school. Yet the students smiled, nodded, and patiently tried to decipher my clumsy explanations. The genuine expressions of thanks and the smiles that I received at the end of the class made me realize that although I had come in with the mindset that I alone had the role of a teacher, there were in reality, six people who were also teaching me.
As our time with Gordon in Lynn draws to a close, I realize that I have learned just as much, if not more than those students I have been helping.I have learned more than just the experience of pride when a students says ‘You’re a good teacher,’ or feeling of success when a student yells ‘Teach us more!’ in the middle of a lesson. At Catholic Charities, I have been privileged to witness unending patience, joy in learning, and genuine community spirit. I have also learned that community service does not require a problem SOLVER 100 percent of the time. The mere fact that a community’s assets are being built upon or strengthened is an important part of what any group can do, and a great part of what I believe true community to be.
Gordon in Lynn has played much more of a role in my life than I had ever anticipated, and has given me experiences, memories, and lessons that will be formative far beyond my time at Gordon.
Senior Samuel Kim, a secondary education and Spanish double major, wrote about his experience as an exchange student for the Language and Linguistics Department's fall newsletter:"I was born in Germany to my Korean missionary parents who raised me to speak German. Until I was about 16 I didn't even know how to express myself in Korean beyond simple survival phrases like "Dad, what are we doing?" or "Mom, I'm starving!" My friends were mainly Germans, and I considered myself one of them. Hence, I avoided being with Korean-Korean people, who would speak Korean nonstop, asking many questions and exposing my lack of knowledge of Korean.
"When I was a junior in high school, I came to the U.S. as an exchange student and had a shocking experience. Suddenly I was no longer considered German but rather a small, confused-looking Korean kid with a funny heavy German accent."Because of that experience, I started learning Korean. At home my parents and I began to communicate exclusively in Korean. By using Korean I got closer to my parents and came to know my extended family in Korea on a much more intimate level than I had before. Language has been an important bridge that connected me to my family and my heritage."What I experienced and observed last semester as the intern with Gordon in Lynn at the Community Minority Cultural Center is similar. Every Saturday we would go into Lynn to teach English as a Second Language to recent immigrants from diverse places like Peru, Haiti and Ukraine. However, rather than us just teaching them, they would teach us as well, sharing their rich life experiences and their attitude of immersing themselves in a completely different cultural setting as they seek to learn a new language."Learning Korean has been an important part of connecting with my family. Similarly, learning English has been important for the people at the CMCC to grow roots in the U.S. and to connect to a new society. When we make efforts to communicate with our family and neighbors in whatever language, we are able to connect with them and cherish the diversity of our world. That is why I am passionate about learning more languages and helping others do so as well. At Gordon College I am majoring in Spanish and secondary education. My dream is to support and establish Christian international schools around the world."
Sophomore Alysa Obert, a communication arts major, wrote about one aspect of her Gordon in Lynn experience for the Languages and Linguistics Department's fall newsletter:"I do not consider myself an artist. I've never taken an art class and although on occasion I might get a creative burst, these moments are few and far between. Often I find myself stuffing the images and pictures in my head into little black words on a blank page. However, last semester I discovered something I have termed an "everyday epiphany": some experiences transcend words. I do not mean they are unable to be communicated, but that words do not do so adequately. A wise friend told me thoughts are not necessarily in words, so I decided to paint what I thought.
"This painting (left) took me a while to complete. There were many, many layers and it changed quite a bit because I struggled to express what I had learned. Besides the paint itself, most of the elements I used found me. The glass was sitting outside of Lane, and the chain was on the ground in a Lynn parking lot. The use of oil paint was also specific to symbolize the density and the texture of the issue of immigration. I used complementary colors to draw stark contrasts that I saw apparent in my experiences in Lynn and at Gordon, and I used pieces of trash to express some of the polluted thought I saw in Lynn in the issue of immigration and in academia as well."As I reflect on my experience in Lynn, I have only begun to realize the imprint it has made on my heart. Lynn has helped me engage the terms of duty, service, mercy, justice and suffering in the context of an omnipotent God by grounding what I learned in theory in the reality of experience."