Todos aprendemos de todos. – We all learn from each other

My vague, ten year old job posting said I would conduct workshops during my internship. It loosely mentioned that workshops would involve basic business skills. Since I never took a business class (and my interviewers knew this) I assumed it would cover basic topics such as communication, customer service, basic accounting and administration skills. I was looking forward to this challenging but rewarding experience. However, since the community recently received computers it was decided I would do computer workshops instead.

I will admit, I was disappointed. I took this as too easy and simple a task, I wanted to conduct workshops that were more challenging and covered more interesting material. I wanted to return to Canada feeling that I had contributed to the development of the community and their future tourism company.

A syllabus had been set prior to my arrival and I was able to make a few adjustments as needed.  If you recall, a friend who had volunteered in the community recommended that I record myself speaking Spanish at intervals during my internship. While preparing for my first workshop, I thought what better time would there be to embarrassingly record myself speaking Spanish to my computer than practicing my first workshop. (I cannot believe I am admitting this and on the internet too, where it will forever be present) but I filmed my preparation for my first workshop.

I wanted to set the tone of the workshop to be very relaxed and open, so we sat in a circle. I explained to the students that I was not an expert, that we were all present to learn from each other, and we all had something to offer. I also explained who I was, why I was here (in the simplest of terms as I’m still exploring that theme on my own), and allowed time for everyone to introduce themselves. I discussed how we had a lot of material to cover, but that the last 15 minutes of every workshop we could dedicate to a fun topic. I suggested we brainstorm to decide on enjoyable programs to learn. No one said anything. After I offered a few suggestions, a few responses were given. Using the web cams, and watching music videos were suggested, as was the internet. I probed further of specifically what they wanted to learn about the internet. As I saw their eyes gaze to the floor I realized to my dismay – and lack of knowledge and preparation of intercultural education – I realized I had set them up for embarrassment, because they did not know about the internet. I offered an example of Facebook, and they all recognized the term and so with my mediocre Spanish and without internet to demonstrate, I began to explain the wonders of social networking.

Overall, the first workshop went well. We discussed the syllabus, added to it, learned the parts of a computer and how to care for one. It was a challenging two hours however. I will never forget how Valerio would look at me so intently and I could not help but feel his judgment when I would stubble upon words in Spanish. Suzanna is too cool for school, at 12 years old, she has a nose and lip piercing and several tattoos, she comes in with her music blaring and cool band tees. There is also Antonio, who did not offer one word for two hours, but I have heard he is dedicated and will be present at every workshop. And there is Maria who is a ball of joy with bright smiles, is shy, but shows interest, she is pregnant at 14; I hope we will not lose her for too long when the baby comes. The workshop was so much different than any previous workshops or trainings I’ve done where one is constantly working the audience to be quiet rather than covertly begging for them to even talk amongst each other.

Now reflecting after many workshops, I realize I was definitely wrong about it being a unrewarding or a simple task. Teaching the most basics of computer skills is challenging! My peers and I learned the basics of a computer at a young age on our own, with trial and error, and the odd Google search. But the youth in the community did not have that opportunity. Teaching someone to highlight a sentence when they have never used a mouse before and when I cannot remember how I learned, makes you think. Equally importantly the silence has ended. We make jokes! We laugh. We even stay after class and chat. I’ve also started a workshop for children. The idea of the escuelita is for youth who no longer attend school and will become or are members of the team organizing the tourism company. But, I saw many children peering into the school, or hanging around hoping for a chance to use the computers, so an hour before the formal workshops, there is now a time for all ages to learn.  The Pedagogical Coordinator and I are also in the beginning stages of planning First Aid workshops.

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