Redefining Cultural Connection Through a Phone Screen

Authored by:
Vivian M.

On Saturday, March 14th, my host dad came into my room and told me that Spain was going on lockdown by Monday. In a panic, I packed up my room in 30 minutes, and hopped on the next train to Madrid. I had no mental capacity to think or process anything beyond “I need to get home”, and it took me a few days after arriving in Seattle to even comprehend the grief I was feeling. Coming into my second month in Sevilla, I was just beginning to find my place. My Spanish was thriving, I was building strong relationships, I felt integrated into the culture, and I was just starting to feel the difference I was making with my volunteering. I only ever volunteered two times at the Liceo Francés school, but even from those two sessions I could see the progress and the relationships that were building with my students.

​Therefore, when the opportunity came to continue with online tutoring at home, I was thrilled (and also nervous). I was being given to chance to continue that cultural connection, even if only through a screen. The first session was a little chaotic. I was sweating a lot from nerves, and I had no real plan or idea of what to expect. Then, instead of it just being me and the student, her entire family was there and wanting to say hi. The phone was tossed around as I spoke to each family member in Spanglish, and they helped each other understand. They showed me their pet birds, the church next to their apartment, and the pizzas they were making for dinner. It was really just like facetiming friends, and truthfully at first I felt like I had failed as a tutor. We didn’t do one proper lesson, or teach one solid vocabulary word, and I hardly got to engage with the student herself. After a while though, I realized that one, there is no “right” wayto do this, as we’re all in an unusual situation, and two that any interaction, including a chaotic call with her whole family, would be valuable. In this strange format of me being invited into her home, we were building our relationship in a uniquely intimate way.

​Then, as we continued our sessions, we got more into the swing of things. We structured our conversations with different topics, and I got to learn all about her favorite hobbies, her favorite foods, and her dream travel locations. We even learned that we both sing in a choir, and enjoy a lot of the same music. At our last session, I asked her to tell me a little about what Semana Santa is usually like in Sevilla. She took me onto their balcony, and pointed out where they would attend church service, where the processions would go by, and even where they put a big neighborhood Christmas tree during Christmas season. As she was showing me, the streets were eerily empty. It barely resembled the vivacious and joyful Sevilla that I remember; in place of bikers and tourists and neighbors interacting, there were just dark and silent alleyways. Her mom told me that since she had lived there, she had never seen Sevilla this quiet. At first this made me really sad, and it really emphasized what a strange and scary world we are living in. But then, after some more thought, I realized how truly connected we all are. We are all living this collective experience, regardless of city, country, race or language, and it’s something that we all have to get through together. Although challenging, there is some beauty in the way that we are united in these times. Thanks to this online tutoring experience, I get to experience this unity first hand, and continue my connection with Sevilla in a more meaningful way than ever. ​

 

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