My spring semester in Barcelona was really nicely completed by my volunteering experience twice per week at an after-school center that caters to young girls growing up in the neighborhood of Barcelona, El Raval.
I volunteered on Tuesdays, coaching 3rd to 6th graders in basketball, and Fridays with general homework help and my favorite part, guitar lessons. The girls were sweet, sassy, incredibly intelligent and were not afraid to correct my Spanish from the start. I watched them grow over the course of the semester and as a result, became very attached to them and developed many close ties.
Volunteering helped me integrate; working alongside Spaniards within a Spanish organization really took me from feeling like a tourist to feeling like a local. It also helped me structure my week time better. At the same time, volunteering immensely improved my Spanish, and hearing the children’s slang, blunt criticisms of my verb tenses, and unapologetic inability to understand English definitely put my language improvement into turbo-speed.
I became very close to the girls, and I loved the work I was doing. I play pick-up basketball at Bowdoin with my friends, so being able to coach my own team was really exciting. We had a game at the end of the semester against another team, and although we lost, it was really fun to watch how they improved since the start of the semester. I also love to play guitar, and I had the opportunity to orchestrate a song, half-Spanish/ half-English, for the end of the semester performance.
Many of the girls came from immigrant families, so they brought different languages, customs and perspectives that were refreshing, and I ended up learning about Moroccan, Afghani and Philippine culture. The staff with whom I worked were really incredible as well, and one of the directors and I hung out a handful of times throughout the semester as she introduced me to her friends, and she even gave me the unforgettable opportunity to volunteer at the Sagrada Familia for a service. I volunteered with other women my age and was able to meet Spanish people that way.
Upon saying my goodbyes to the staff the last day, they profusely thanked me for the time and effort I gave throughout the semester. However, I felt like thanking them since I left my semester gaining such a profound experience and sense of purpose in the city because of my volunteer work.
I was really sad to leave the last day, but it put a huge smile on my face to have had the opportunity to watch such gifted and incredible girls grow over the course of the semester.
Julianna Pinero, Bowdoin College