Before going to college, I knew what I wanted to study and what kind of college I was looking for. I also knew I wanted a school with a great study abroad program. Choosing an institution with my major and a perfect study abroad program was easy when I found Lebanon Valley College.
To my parents, every time I brought up the subject of studying abroad, they would immediately look upset. In the end, however, I knew that they were happy with my decisions because they knew how much I loved traveling and exploring the world.
My first two years at LVC were filled with many ups and downs, as is almost every new college student. I changed majors and no longer knew if studying abroad would be an option. By junior year I finally realized my true calling and studying abroad became a reality!
When the time came to choose a program where I would spend a semester learning and growing, I wanted to find a big, bustling city. Curiously enough, Valladolid, Spain caught my eye.
Initially, I was not sure if this small city was right for me, however I was pleasantly surprised. The beautiful, former capital of Spain was the perfect size: not too small but not too big. Valladolid was my classroom to practice day-to-day Spanish and this city helped me get outside of my element.
As a Speech Language Pathology and Spanish major, I also wanted to cultivate my understanding of speech in addition to language. Thankfully, my Resident Director Sergio, got me in touch with an organization called Allies in English.
This organization finds native English speakers to help children with hearing disabilities practice their English language. These kids live all over Spain and I quickly learned how much of a family this community is to each other.
At the beginning of the semester, I hopped on a bus for the first time and traveled across town to talk with the ladies in charge of program and meet a family. I was a little nervous because I did not know if my Spanish was good enough or if I was capable of the job. Thankfully, all those negative thoughts disappeared once I started talking to a Speech Language Pathologist working at the clinic.
The Pathologist talked me through how I could connect with the children, how to interact and make learning fun, and most importantly, to enjoy my time with the kids. It sounds cliché but this was the key to working with these kids.
After our meeting, I met Pablo, a rambunctious 6-year-old who relied on hearing aids to help him hear. I also met his parents and spoke to them about Pablo’s hearing impairment and how they would like me to help him.
Pablo has a very bubbly personality! Having him sit still for an hour was going to be a little challenging, but after the first couple of weeks, we established a rapport. He even started asking his mom when I would be coming over to play with him!
During my semester abroad, I would visit Pablo once a week on Thursdays. We would work on vocabulary and reading for the first half of the session and dedicate the second half to Pablo’s favorite toys and games. I would talk in English so he could get use to the sounds and vocabulary.
Every week, I could see Pablo getting more and more excited about our sessions, and I could see his vocabulary growing more and more over time. He and his family were so kind to open their home to me every week and let me help Pablo in any way I could.
Pablo was not the only child I worked with while abroad. I knew I wanted to challenge myself as well as help more children while taking a deeper dive into the Valladolid community.
In addition to Pablo, I also worked with Valentina: a warm, spunky 7-year-old. Valentina also has a cochlear implant on one ear. On my first day meeting Valentina and her loving parents, I felt like I was part of the family.
During the initial weeks, I wanted to get acquainted with her and see how much English she was familiar with, just like I did with Pablo. After seeing how much Valentina understood and knew, I wanted to make each session fun and educational.
Each week, we would play games and practice vocabulary as well as pronunciation. At times, I would also help her older brother Alejandro with his English. Often, we would lose track of time playing games. When it was time to go home, she would give me the biggest hug and tell me she was excited for our next visit.
Valentina would wait for me at the door every Monday with a new toy she wanted to show me, whether it was a new Lego set she got for her birthday that made her want to be an architect or a test tube kit that came with a lab coat that made her want to doctor. We would play with it while I spoke to her in English and helped her get familiar with the language by hearing how it should be pronounced properly from an American speaker. Each week, she would surprise me with how much she remembered from the previous week and how eager she was to learn another language.
Both Pablo and Valentina taught me so much over my 5 months with them. The most important lesson I learned is that they do not let their hearing impairment define them. They are just normal, bubbly kids who just require a little extra help with their hearing and speaking.
Each week, I gained a greater appreciation for Speech Language Pathologists and got more and more excited for my future. Seeing the excitement to learn in their eyes and learning how I became someone who they relied on was such a gratifying experience.
Watching their growth and becoming close with them, made my time in Spain an even more rewarding experience. I am so grateful to my Resident Director, Sergio for introducing me to this organization and being one of the first in the program’s history to work with them.
I hope that other students who are interested in this field or line of work and want to make a difference get involved with Allies in English. My internship became an amazing and unique experience, and I thank my study abroad program for introducing me to Pablo and Valentina. These kids will have a special place in my heart and I look forward to hearing from their families about their progress, even if we are 3,715 miles apart!
About the Author – Jennifer Lopez, fall 2018 Valladolid, Spain & Lebanon Valley College student
Hola! My name is Jennifer and I am a junior Speech Language Pathology and Spanish major at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, PA. I studied abroad in Valladolid, Spain in the fall of 2018 and it was one of the best decision ever! I traveled all over Europe, met some incredible people and ate the best food ever! I really enjoyed the weekend excursions BCA offered me while I was abroad as well as having the best host mom ever!