KC Member Ada Iris Jaime sent me this to post for her:
Since attending K.C. I have asked myself, “What can I bring to the table and offer those who are giving me such nurturing bread?” One day I heard my heart voice the desire to talk to Heather about the ideas that tossed around in my head. She gave me a great smile and suggested I call a "FOCUS group" to help put the ideas to action.
I am putting together a group that would work together to co-create a cross-cultural outreach program based at K.C., reaching out to Spanish-speaking people in Howard County who are hungry not just to improve their English, but to connect to share their culture and connect to the culture in which they live. I am hungry to work and live in a community that cares for each other, as I know so many others are too.
A word about my own background will help to explain my approach:
In my 20's I lived a most exciting life in Seville, Spain where I accidentally on purpose became the spearhead of change in the way the Language Institute where I taught English and Spanish approached their curriculum for college exchange students. Students from all over the world came together in Sevilla to learn Spanish, and local university students attended the institute to learn English, not to mention all the other languages that were offered at the institute. It was so invigorating to walk the hallways and hear conversations in all different languages from people of all different colors, shapes and sizes. I noticed most of the students limited their interactions with classmates and rarely ventured out on their own into the community. Everyone stayed in a group and clustered around those similar to them. Something about this didn’t seem right to me. I knew there was an opportunity waiting for something else.
As a young foreigner myself, I also initially had difficulty integrating in the society I planted myself in and I knew the language. So, it wasn’t a language barrier that kept me apart, something else was preventing me from reaching into the community and this something else, I feel is experienced by all foreigners at one time. I lived trying to co-exist as a foreigner (keeping true to my way of doing things at home) and was tormented by the thoughts of isolation because I saw everything as their way. I wanted that feeling to go away but it was constant and I didn’t know how to initiate social discovery. I knew I had to reach out but didn’t know how. My father's only consistent advice to me when I whined of homesickness was, "When in Rome do like the Romans". And I consistently responded, "I'm in Spain, Dad, not Italy.”
It took me awhile to get what my dad meant, but finally I got it. I had to become one with them to be present with them and therefore no longer will I be alone. I made it my intention to seek to understand and discover what was going on before me and not judge or compare things the way I was accustom to do things (this took effort but became easier as I practiced). Finally I was really awaken to how things are there and experienced it, and had no need to go in my mind anywhere else.
I began to view the world at the people level, with an open-mind and explore with them, meaning just to smile and look people in the eye inviting myself into their lives and allowing them to show me what surrounded us. I began to talk to strangers, waiters, cab drivers, students, clergy, talk politics with Pepe and Manolo who sat at a park bench cursing at a daily news line (I learned many new expressions I could never repeat), play with Pedrito soccer, at the market ask Maria how do you prepare this or that dish, dance with flamenco dancers, and write poetry under the scent of jasmine and azhar.
I found I had to only approach them once, and then they called me over as I passed, “Hola Morena, venid”. The tables turned quickly and they began to ask me the who, what and whys of my country and the people of America and those Yankees. It was awesome to be a spokesperson. I got to know myself at a deeper level and laugh at myself and cherish what I was receiving and what I left behind.
My life in Sevilla changed me right before my eyes and this lesson had to be shared with those who I saw before me doing as I did, living as a tourist and not experiencing the world around them. I knew I had to teach them more than what they could read and write on a postcard. I would tell students my story,
“It wasn't until I sat with anyone and everyone that Seville opened up to me. I realized I lived in Seville. Wow, I no longer considered myself a foreigner, I lived there, I was a part of all that surrounded me. Anyone can take ownership of where they are at if only they follow the way of entering community and limit self to the invitation of show me, tell me, explore with me how is it that... smile and receive.”
I took my students into the community, I organized soccer and basketball games mixing local kids and the exchange students, chess games at the park with the older generation. I brought Maria into my house to teach us how to cook. Later Maria wouldn’t have it with my cooking-challenged kitchen and obligated me to take them to her house. After awhile it was my students inviting me to activities they had conjured with their friends in the community. My students left family when the got on a plane home. Months later they were back on holiday with their parents sharing community in the bars, parks, historic sites, the Plaza Mercado (market place). The feedback was amazing. What was more amazing was hearing Manolo at age 82 try to speak English for the first time.
Other classes wanted to do what we where doing, so, I began coordinating activities for all the language arts teachers. Students regardless of the language had to go out into the community and give of themselves and invite others to share in the experience. Everyone benefited from the dialogues, no one left without experiencing Sevilla. And as they say, “Si no has visto Sevilla, no has visto maravilla” –“If you haven’t seen Sevilla you haven’t seen wonder.” Those years remain in my heart as the greatest wonder.
This experience is the seed to my cross-cultural concept for exploration with the members at K.C. and the community.
I want us to unite with an open and compassionate heart and brainstorm ways to explore how we can be a vehicle of inclusion for those who have planted themselves and their families amongst us and feel they are alone or limit their exploration of our world to that which is familiar to them. I want our lives to be shared with all who live in our community from within our church stretching out as far as God allows us to take it.
My first burning desire is to explore ways we can "Seek to understand to then be understood." Walk as Jesus did, side by side with anyone and everyone with a need or listening heart and offer of ourselves so they can open their spirit of union and co-create community. “Voila”--we find ourselves enriched and at home anywhere we go. We get to know each other. Love our neighbor. It was that simple to undertake when I lived in Sevilla; why not try it over here?
I feel richness invade me as I look across the room and receive a smile from a shining face at K.C., that’s all I need to continue on my journey. I am comforted by resting. I’m home. I want wholeheartedly to offer this smile to those who do not know what is out their beyond the safety and isolation of their walls. So much to share and the only barrier I have found is not to seek the opportunity for something else to happen. Walk with thy neighbor and be blessed along the journey where the spirit will lead us.