At Wings of Hope, I’m helping with the summer language program by teaching English to Bosnian students. It is a free program, open to people of all ages for the month of July and I’m astounded by the students’ abilities. Their ages range from 9 to 13 years old, and one lovely girl is my age. The younger ones are giggly and open to fun activities while the older students are eager to soak up new vocabulary, trying to speak English whenever possible.
I’m finding that I’m actively learning more than I am teaching since I am very new to the skill. My co-workers have been an immense help, giving me tips on how to engage the students and how to elicit answers from the class. Yet just observing their actions while leading an activity is a lesson in itself. I have such a great appreciation for the patient care and attention they show toward each individual student. After a lesson one day, I received the best advice from one of my co-workers who explained that teachers should actively seek, not only to teach a subject, but to transform lives. Teaching is not just encouraging students in a classroom but rather instilling a deep sense of self-confidence and pride, of self-respect and dignity… basically making students feel like they matter. As I look back on my own childhood, I realize how fortunate I was— to have been instilled with this same passion for learning and to have had such encouraging people surrounding me, acknowledging my successes and then pushing me further through my failures. The absence of a solid support system can effect your entire outlook on life and can shape your future goals.
I’m learning more about the English language than I thought possible, but I’m also learning about Bosnian culture and the lives of these young people. Even while playing games and stumbling through a foreign language, the siege of the 1990s inevitably comes up. During the lesson about careers, we went around the room asking each student what their family members do for a living. While many of the younger students mentioned that their parents were doctors or professors or construction workers, the delightful 23 year old (who is honestly the most charming, pleasant person I’ve ever met) explained that she lived with her mother and grandmother who were both unemployed since her father had died during the war. During the lesson on the use of “can” and “can’t” I learned that she can’t drive because her family doesn’t own a car so she never needed to learn. I learned that she can’t ski but she can (kako se kaže..?) sled in the winter, and that yes, Bosnian children attempt to build snowmen too. I learned that the adorable 9 year old lives in the house next to Wings of Hope. I can see her dog, Medo, from the office window. She tells me that during her free time she plays with him in her backyard. I’m so lucky to be able to meet and converse with such sweet, respectful, endearing students each day. Their eagerness is contagious.