“Hi,” I began. “My name is D. I am originally from just outside of Washington, DC. In my former life, I was a publicist. Now, I am traveling and writing about it. If I could be any animal, I would be … a bird.”
I sat down.
I was sitting in one of the back rows in the Valedelavilla meeting room, anxiously surveying the crowd of Anglos and Spaniards (our new classifications) who had all come together in the room following a four-hour bus ride through the mountains near Soria.
Dade, a Brit, served as the MC and ushered us through quick introductions — who we are, where we are from, what we do, and what animal would we be if we could be any animal in the world. He instructed the Spaniards to open their ears to the extensive English being spoken.
I sat and listened as each person stood up and responded to Dade’s request. I tried to open my ears. Damn, it was hard.
After introductions, Dade explained the program: early wake up call for breakfast, followed by four one-on-ones with Anglos, then lunch, then siesta, then more one-on-ones and group activities, then performances, then dinner, then optional drinks at the bar.
What did I get myself into?
I had no clue how to open my ears, let alone draw conversation from people for 10 hours a day, if not more.
Fortunately, my first one-on-one that day was with Silvia, so it was easy and comfortable. As soon as she and I sat down to talk, my apprehension began to ease. I began to relax.
I started to open myself up to this experience.
With every one-on-one, it got easier to understand the Spanish-speakers. With every one-on-one, my smile grew bigger as I taught them phrasal verbs and idioms, as I learned about their lives and shared stories of mine.
As the week progressed, I looked forward to each activity, to the rewarding feeling resulting from a look of understanding. I knew I was hard to understand. Many of the Spaniards had told me I talked too fast (of course) and they didn’t look forward to listening to me.
By the end of the program, I had learned to talk slower (just a little). I had laughed so hard I cried. I had new friendships that would extend beyond the days in Valdelavilla.
When the program director had said she needed more Anglos for the April 4 immersion, I volunteered without a moment to think about it. Like an addict, I wanted to recapture the rewarding feeling and high that comes with helping people.
And, most importantly, by the end of the program, I had opened my ears, my heart and my mind.