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Study Abroad | July 24, 2019

Breaking through language barriers

Brianna Ungaro

My experience at the local school for the last service project was probably one of my favorite experiences on this whole trip. The innocent love and affection the children had for us right off the bat warmed my heart. I grew such a beautiful connection with some of the kids from just being present in the moment. 

After being invited into a classroom by some of the students, the teacher allowed us to introduce ourselves and brought out the globe and had us point to where we were from then allowed the children to sing us songs in Spanish and Quechuan including the Peruvian national anthem. I was dancing along with them and poorly trying to keep up with their chorus but the children loved it. They were so happy to show my friends and I the things they had been learning and working on for so long. Eventually, we parted ways and joined the rest of the group who was painting a mural on one of the building’s outside walls.

Study abroad students paint a mural on a local school's wall

Brianna and school children paint a mural on a local school's wall as part of a service project.

The wall faced the concrete and grass soccer fields and was adjacent to the lunchroom. I started to do some soccer drills through the cones on the concrete which attracted a few of my friends and some of the boys on their way to breakfast. The little drill we did of cat and mouse turned into a four vs four-game then a full-on match once more kids heard all the commotion. I was having the time of my life hyping up the children. 

It’s amazing that on the field we didn’t have trouble communicating despite the language barrier. We all went out there to have a fun time and kick the ball around. I’ve never really played soccer, so I expected to be pretty bad, but these children were absolute ALL STARS on the field. I loved seeing them compete. They were talkative, interactive, problem solvers, and respectful. The children were so happy to have some fresh competition to show off their skills.

Turning my attention to the artistic side of the project, I jumped into work on the mural and had some helpers in the form of a group of girls from the classroom we’d met earlier.  The feeling I got was one of a big sister or someone they wanted to be friends with. I loved every second of them trying to talk one after another and asking me questions and taking my hand to show me their cafeteria and secret water spot and pointing out their walk every day to school. Despite my inability to speak a lot of Spanish, they tried and I tried to make the communication work. Thankfully, I speak a lot with my hands and made them laugh with all my charades. 

The boys made me laugh because they would want to watch what I was doing but when I introduced myself they would all become shy and run away just to run back when they thought I was not paying attention. Finally, some of the boys wanted their hands painted or to help paint and were fascinated with my cursive on the wall so they came over and started to interact. I truly loved their curiosity and playfulness. 

Filepainting_the_mural.mp4

The hardest part about that day was leaving. The little girls were holding onto me so tightly and asking me to stay longer or walk them home or come the next day. I wished I could and told them I would have stayed longer if I was allowed. The children from all over the school came up to us and gave us a million hugs and thanks. This service project we performed in painting a mural ended up inspiring me and helping me connect even more to this community. 

This experience was for the spirit. It showed that language barriers, cultural differences and age gaps are fictions of our imagination, we can learn from and be present with any person if we allow ourselves to be.