A unique experience abroad
My Carnival celebration this year was a little different than that of my peers on CIS Abroad in Barcelona programs. No one else in my program got tackled to the ground in hugs by Spiderman, a pirate, and Anna from Frozen. No one else had their name screamed in excitement followed by twirling princesses showing off their dress, shoes and tiara. Celebrating Carnival abroad is a new experience for all U.S. study abroad students, but because of my volunteer position at Kidzz International, a Dutch and English daycare in Gracia, I learned that children know how to celebrate it the best.
While studying abroad at the University of Barcelona for the Spring 2019 semester, I decided to volunteer as a way to occupy some time while the majority of my friends were in class. When I chose Kidzz International, volunteering my time 10 hours a week in the toddler and young children location, I did not realize how much I would love the place that I chose and how easily I would feel at home in Barcelona thanks to the teachers and children at the daycare.
Why I started volunteering with Spanish children
I have been working with children for a few years in the United States. I worked at a daycare throughout high school and went on to be a nanny for a few children throughout my first years at university. The most interesting thing to see is how similar children are, no matter what language they speak, country they live in, or background they have. All children love bubbles, drawing pictures, singing songs. If you give them a smile and your attention, they’ll laugh and play with you for hours.
Within my first few seconds of being at Kidzz International on my first day, a little boy marched up to me, proudly introduced himself, and informed me that,
“Today is my birthday and I am turning 3 and what’s your name?”
It was then that I realized how similar children can be across the world and why I’ve chosen to spend so much time with them. I have met tons of new students and peers abroad, but never quite as abruptly as meeting all the children. Within one week they surprised me, with a few of them knowing my name, most of them recognizing me when I showed up to the front door, and even asking the teachers questions about me when I was not there.
Sharing, drawing, learning…and building connections across culture
During my time volunteering with Spanish children, I got to share with them, mostly the older ones who understand the most, about my country and my home and compare it to theirs. Many of them were bilingual, with the kids speaking and understanding English, Spanish, Dutch and some even French. I shared with them facts about my home and University in Massachusetts, and even got the opportunity to do an activity based on facts from my state.
We made drawings that related to Massachusetts, such as the leaves falling from a tree or the labels of the sports teams, as well as played with fake snow and made tiny snowmen. When I first started the activity, I asked the kids if they remembered where I was from, and it surprised me that they did. I realized how much they do pay attention to their teachers, and how much they pick up on.
They love to learn new songs and especially games, like the game “patty cake” that has specific hand motions. Later, I could then hear them sing the songs to themselves or play with each other mimicking the hand motions of the game.
Volunteering at Kidzz became much more than something to do in the afternoon. The teachers were welcoming and became a part of my experience abroad as well. I got recommendations from them as I traveled and learned more about their different cultures without evening having to travel.
We would compare our sayings in different languages, like different phrases in Dutch, French and Croatian and even the differences between American English and English from the United Kingdom. We would compare common childhood games from our respective countries and be able to teach the children a variety of games. They taught me about Barcelona and also their home countries and I got to share my experiences in the United States with them.
An unforgettable memory
Because of my experience in volunteering with Spanish children, I saw Barcelona from a different point of view, from the brilliant and inquisitive eyes of a child. My time at Kidzz taught me a lot about myself, about the world and about children in general. I am grateful for the experience that I had abroad and will miss and think about the children and teachers at Kidzz for the rest of my life.
Curious about living in Barcelona? Check out the Housing Video Bridget filmed!