After a month of feeling completely over my head at the drop-in computer lab at the International Institute of New England, I finally realized something. It's okay to not know everything. I'm learning along with the students, and while I can help them with some things, like reading what's on the screen, and understanding how to fill in forms, I still fumble around the PC computers, stabbing at random keys that don't work the way they do on a Mac (it's hard to break the habits of a lifetime). The students appreciate that I am trying, just as they are, to make sense of it all. I am patient with the students, and they are even more patient with me. And sometimes we just laugh.
Computer lab has turned into a do-your-own-thing place. A few students like to listen to music with headphones, and sing along with English subtitles (Pharrell's Happy is great for this). Some watch videos or episodes of TV shows like Modern Family. Almost everyone checks email, and a few like to practice typing on the keyboard or repeating the sounds of the alphabet. The students who come every week are voracious learners. Whether they are working on vocabulary or pronounciation, or filling in forms, or reading The Times in Plain English, or checking out job openings, they absorb each lesson or piece of knowledge and want more. For the volunteers, it can be hard to keep up. Some days I end up doing one-on-one tutoring, depending on how many people come to the lab, and what each student needs. I don't know if I've ever worked as hard at anything as these men and women work to learn English, so they can get jobs and become self-sufficient as quickly as possible. I respect each one more than they know, and I feel honored to be part of their journey.
My own journey into this volunteering life challenges me in new ways every day. More about that next time.