Annual Contest

Each year, students who study abroad from Saint Mary's are encouraged to capture their experiences via photos, videos, and essays. Here are this year's winners which we hope you enjoy! Click to see the full image.

Essay Contest — 1st Prize

A Friend to Learn With

By Alma Nunez
29 Septembre 2020
Rome, Italy

Every Saturday during my study abroad semester in Rome I got the opportunity to visit a foster home for children with other students from my university. There are children of all ages and parts of the world, some with no parents, others with one or both, but none with the capability to care for their children except occasionally visit them. 
It was spending one Saturday morning with an 11-year-old boy, I will give him the name of Fausto in this description, that I more clearly realized why I chose to give every Saturday of my time abroad to spend time with these children.

Fausto had just had surgery the Monday before. He had gone to the hospital to have the burnt skin along his left arm replaced with skin from his leg. When two other students and I arrived, some of the caregivers told us that he was feeling lonely. We went to the living room and found him lying on the couch with his bandaged arm and leg to the side, watching tv. Fausto was usually the most extroverted of all of the kids, a natural leader bursting with energy and used to being the center of attention. It was the first time I had seen him this quiet and still. 

After talking for a little while, Fausto and an Italian student from my university began to teach me and the other international student how to play a popular Italian card game. Once the game was over, the other students went to play with other children and eventually it was just Fausto, me, and a couple other children watching TV.
He knew that I knew how to speak Spanish, so he turned to me and told me, “Teach me something in Spanish.” So, I taught him how to say “¡Hola! Me llamo Fausto. Tengo once años. Quantos años tienes tú?” In English this means “Hi, my name is Fausto. I am eleven years old. How old are you?” I saw his face light up as he began to pronounce the sentences bit by bit 
and I encouraged him by saying “Sei bravo Fausto. Impari velocemente!” “You are awesome Fausto. You learn quickly!” He pointed to himself and said to his friend in the room, “Guarda, sono bravo, imparo subito!” “Look, I’m awesome, I learn fast!” 
Whenever he would get something wrong, he would repeat it again and again until he got it right. At one point when he was having difficulty he said, “This is so hard” and I told him, 
“See, it’s not that easy to learn another language” (when the Italian student would ask him to teach me Italian, Fausto would say no, so now he truly knew that I needed his help) and he responded “Yes, it’s true”. When I thought he would get bored or want to give up, he continued adamantly with a big smile and bright, eager eyes. 
Once he got those phrases down, he asked me to teach him numbers. So, I taught him numbers one through eleven. He went to show off his skills to the students and an 8-year-old girl from Spain that lived there as well. Everyone was so impressed. After our Spanish lesson he instead taught me how to play solitaire. He showed me how to lay the cards on the table 
and the rules of the game. 

Finally, it was time for me to go. He asked me if I would be there the following week and how to say “ciao” in Spanish. “Adios” I told him. He waved to me and the other students as we left, saying “adios” with a big smile. 

The next Saturday we went he could walk again and began greeting the students as we walked in. Finally, his eyes came to rest on me. He hurriedly came to me to give me a big hug. He told me excitedly, “I learned how to say the days of the week and the alphabet too!” and then proceeded to show me. When I asked who taught him, he said that he learned it by 
himself. It brought me so much joy that learning Spanish was something Fausto was beginning to be so passionate about. 

Even though we knew different languages we still worked to understand each other. He strove to understand what I was teaching and I what he was asking. He could teach me solitaire and I could ask questions and understand his instructions. 

Serving in this small way internationally has brought a hope of friendship, a hope of learning, a way of giving and receiving gifts for both Fausto and me. I have learned to be vulnerable with myself and recognize my lack of knowledge, patient with myself in the same way those around me are. I have grown accustomed to ask for help, for example from the Italian student, when I didn’t know exactly how to communicate and to feel okay being uncomfortable in situations when I mess up because that is the way I will grow. Serving in an international context is more than just an exchange of language and culture, but forming relationships centered on love and helping each other grow.