Coming into the semester, I thought that I understood different cultures very well; I have family that is Mexican and Samoan, my best friends are Chinese and Korean, and I have had roommates that were Haitian and Puerto Rican. After this semester and after doing the service learning, I have realized that I learned so much and I still have so much to learn. When service learning was first introduced in class, I was very excited. I thought that I would have no problem jumping into this new environment and being around people of a culture that I had previously never been around. I quickly learned that this is not how it would go and is not how I would feel.
My first opportunity of service learning was Ella’s event with Because He First Loved Us about self-positivity and anti-bullying. Before I even got to the event, I loved what it stood for. I think that everyone needs more self-love and confidence so I loved that there was an activity all about that for kids because if self-love could be implemented at this stage in their lives, I truly believe that it will have a positive and lasting impact on them for the rest of their lives. When I got to the event, I suddenly became nervous. Several questions ran through my head: “What if I say something offensive without realizing it?” “What if I have nothing to talk about with these kids?” “Why didn’t I learn more about their culture and where they are from before getting here?”. I was so nervous about saying something offensive that it took a little while before I actually started interacting with the kids; once I did, it quickly became very evident that they really are just kids, and I know how to talk with kids. Once I thought about how I interact with and play with my niece and nephews, the rest of the event was a lot of fun as I treated them how I would any other kid their age.
For my last activity, I was able to participate in Tina’s event in which we went and worked with the Refugee & Immigrant Center and held a class about different cleaning products and how to use them properly. When I first got there, there was an after-school club going on for some kids and I got talking to the woman that worked at the center, Lara. We were talking about the kids that were refugees and how they can sometimes be a handful and she ended the conversation by saying something that, personally, encompasses all of my service learning experience: “Kids are kids; they’re all the same”. When I heard this, it kind of hit me that during this whole thing, once I started to look at, not only those that I was volunteering with, but those that I was volunteering on behalf of as just being people, not refugees, it became so much easier. I think that we as people tend to get caught up on differences rather that focusing on the similarities that we have with people; we all have trials, we all will go through hard things, we all have things in our lives that make us happy, and we all really do share a lot of the same experiences.
I am eternally grateful for the opportunity that I had to do service learning this semester. Having to take time and not think about myself and do all that I could to try to help someone else and to try to do good for someone that was not myself was very impactful. Getting into the mindset that everyone I meet is going to have a different background than myself, but that they are also going to have a lot of similarities with me is a way that will allow me to get to know people more without shutting them out because I am unwilling to look beyond the surface. At the start of this class, I always assumed that I did not have much in common with a refugee, but after spending time with those that are refugees, I now know that if you take the time to look, you can find similarities with anyone.