Our first meeting included the translator trying to figure out what Svitlana wanted to learn and asking me not to give up if this didn’t work. I learned she was around fifty years old and had only been in the United States for three years, was at a level one in English, and had completed the eighth grade in Russia. I felt unprepared, even after completing my training. This lent to some frustration as we muddled through our first session. She seemed frustrated as well. And honestly, I would have been too if I were in her shoes. To me, Svitlana is a brave woman. It can not be easy to learn a new language when in your home and at work is your native one. But she was there because she wanted to learn and I was there because I wanted to teach. Seemed like a perfect pairing to me!
For our second session I was prepared. I went through the lesson books and chose one centering on the work environment. I made out some flash cards, taping pictures to all the objects, to use in constructing questions and responses so we could work on dialogue. I planned out how much time to spend on each activity. When all was completed, I sat back looking at my neatly stacked piles and wondered if she would even show up.
So yesterday morning, I loaded my bag and headed to the library. As I went to the front desk to claim our room, there she was waving at me from the table with a smile on her face. I made a mental note to arrive early the next time. She tried making conversation as we walked back to the room. I took this as a positive sign. Once we sat down, she was all business wanting to learn and expressing concern over her lesson book. After I explained how we would use her book with mine she seemed relieved. I think she was going to try to work through it on her own. She is so eager to learn!
When our session was finished and I was packing up my papers, she told me I was a good tutor. She started to say something more and I waited while she struggled to find the words she was looking for. Then, she smiled at me and said, “You are kind.” I resisted the urge to hug her, but smiled and told her she was smart and a good student. Her smile made my day.
Although I started this endeavor to give back to my community and to try to build someone up by giving them tools to work with. And this has only been our second meeting. I still wonder if I’ll give as much as I’m gaining. I am quickly learning many things about Svitlana’s character, even with our temporary language barrier. She is a brave, hard working woman, who does not let fear stop her from exploring the unknown. She is determined, proactive, smart, and incredibly kind. Yesterday, I found myself wanting to know more about her and hoping that somewhere down the road we can be good friends.