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Ellie Klein from Spain reflects on how volunteerism abroad, parallels and diverges from volunteerism in the U.S.


~November 2011~

Goal Setting

stone fence


In any field, having a purpose is incredibly important. Whether a student, a volunteer, or a paid employee, we as humans typically like to feel that we are working towards a goal and that our life has significance. As I’ve been talking to family and friends about my work here in Spain, we both notice the pause that follows the question, “So do you like your job?” The truth is, I am ambivalent. Years of summer camp counseling, babysitting and classroom engagement have taught me that I do not fully like the role of a teacher. There are certainly aspects I enjoy; I love working with children, but something about “classroom teacher” does not suit me. I am not sure if it is the pressure of being responsible for so many students, or the anxiety of keeping them all interested. All and all it is most likely the freedom and power to educate young minds combined with my perfectionist tendencies that frustrates me. Without any clear and concise guidance, I find teaching stressful and demoralizing. Frequently, I am left feeling like I didn’t do a good enough job.

         Last year through AmeriCorps, I was not a teacher. I was an assistant. There were times in which I had to be in front of a group of students, and those were the times I enjoyed the least. On the other hand, I loved the one-on-one conversations, the classroom assistance and the friendships I formed with individual students. As an AmeriCorps volunteer in Federal Way, I was a part of something incredibly well organized, facilitated, and defined. We were working toward improving the lives and futures of students in poverty through support, understanding and consistency. We were reminded of this constantly, and received regular training on how to enhance our work and develop our skills. Although new to the workforce, volunteerism and life after college, I understood this position and it was unbelievably rewarding.

Over the past two months in Spain, I have been working with a more vague set of goals. I am teaching students English, and have merely been given a “list of conversation topics” to cover, but beyond that, I have little direction, minimal feedback and no validation that my work really makes much of a difference. Perhaps this will change over the next few month. If it doesn’t provide life satisfaction, it helps to remember that satisfaction does not have to come through one’s career as it can often be found in relationships, hobbies, travel and the intricacies of everyday life. I find meaning in many aspects of my experience in Spain, but the joy I felt through AmeriCorps was certainly more fulfilling and gratifying. I am finding ways to define value through my current position, even though it has had certain frustrations. Facilitating my own approach to teaching, I have adhered to the standards I hold for students, while continually showering them with praise and opportunities to learn. I like to think that I am kind, compassionate and patient, and that they like that. Whether public or private, volunteer or paid, short or long-term – it’s important to find meaning in your life’s work. But, you don’t always have someone guiding you and sometimes you have to look within to define a mission for yourself.

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pictureEllie Klein graduated from Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA in May of 2010 with a degree in Media Studies. Last year she served with the Federal Way Public Schools AmeriCorps team as a tutor at a local high school and volunteer at the Westway After School Program. She is currently in Andalusia, the southern region of Spain, to teach English at a high school in the Mediterranean coastal town of Adra.


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