My name is Borja Herraiz and I am a School of International Service major. This year for CSLP I have put together my volunteering experiences at the District of Columbia International School (DCI) with my academic learning experience within the confines of the Advanced Chinese II curriculum here at the American University. This school is a charter bilingual school meaning it is both public and private and splits the language students take class in between either Chinese and English, Spanish and English or French and English. My role in the school is to act as a teaching assistant for all of the Chinese teachers at the school (four). This means that I am in the classroom while the teacher is teaching and I am there to assist her/him in anyway they demand. So far I have been able to answer questions students may have, helped the teacher complete in-class exercises on the white board or projector, have done one-on-one sessions with students who were behind on their work due to an absence and cleaning the classroom after each session. Needless to say all of this work has been done while speaking, listening, and writing in Chinese (Mandarin).
My expectations before I began the service were many. First, I thought DCI was a private institution located in one of the many suburbs that surround the District of Columbia. I ended up being surprised at the fact that the school was a charter school and that it was located in Columbia Heights. Secondly, I thought the kids were going to have an outstanding level of Chinese since most of them had began the bilingual program at the age of four years old. In fact, I found myself very comfortable in being able to correct the students in their Chinese regardless of which level class (1-3) I was assisting for. Overall most of my expectations have been ripped and torn apart, not to say they were in a bad way though. By far the most surprising thing that has happened to me during my service so far has been the need to break up a fight between two of the seventh graders. I have never worked with inner city kids before, especially at such a young age, but I can tell you from experience that it is a challenge. Last Wednesday there was an altercation with two of the kids during Chinese 2 class and they began to swing and choke each other. Upon seeing this I instantly broke off the fight and sent the kids in opposite directions. My busiest day volunteering is on Wednesdays where I spend a total of 8 hours working directly with these kids. Due to the nature of my work these eight hours are equivalent to eight hours of thinking, speaking, writing and listening in Chinese. I can say with no hint of doubt that after only one of these Wednesdays I have already noticed a difference in how much I understand in my own Chinese class.