Understanding beyond language | My AIESEC Experience

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Francesca left her home country of Italy to participate in the AIESEC Global Volunteer “X4Change language teaching project” in Brazil this summer. This is her story.

I’ll admit that when I arrived at the home of my host family in Brazil, I was surprised. I didn’t expect that the standards of living here would be so different from those of Italy, my home country. It was only during my time in Brazil that I realized that I had never really seen poverty before.

I decided to do a Global Volunteer project with AIESEC because I wanted to test myself and try to make an impact on the world. What I didn’t realize was that this experience would end up having such a big impact on me.

New Realities

My host was a very friendly Brazilian woman who didn’t speak a word of English or Italian. I didn’t speak a word of Portuguese. In our first few days together, we communicated exclusively through Google Translate and hand gestures. It got better as time went on and she was even able to learn some English by communicating with me.

The NGO where I volunteered teaching English to kids for six weeks was in the favela, or slum, a very poor neighborhood of the city. Every day arriving to work I was confronted with this reality, and it was a challenge to come to terms with it.  

Overcoming Language Barriers

On my first day, I was assisting the local teacher teach an art class. Suddenly two very young children got in an argument over something and it ended up with one of them crying, seemingly inconsolable. Since I didn’t speak any Portuguese, I didn’t know how to comfort him. So, without words, I drew a picture of a horse and gave it to him. The moment I gave him the drawing he cheered up and stopped crying.

Every day from then on when I arrived at the school I was practically ambushed by kids requesting drawings of horses, tigers, mermaids, princesses – anything you can imagine, I was asked to draw it. One of the students in particular must have collected over thirty drawings from me during my six weeks as his teacher. Many kids seemed to take inspiration and began requesting art classes and making drawings themselves.

The Children & I

During the English lessons, I and another AIESEC volunteer from Colombia found ourselves facing a room of twenty kids between the ages of three to twelve. It can be very difficult to keep so many young kids focused, especially when you don’t speak their language. I realized that if I drew on the board, I could keep their attention. While I was drawing, the kids’ eyes were glued to my hand. After I drew the animal I would say the name in English and write it on the board.

This was by far the most satisfying part of my Global Volunteer experience: even if the kids didn’t become fluent in English after six weeks, I had found a way to make them focus in class and get them motivated to learn. The drawings opened up a channel of communication between us beyond languages and was a way for me to enter into their world and get to know each child personally. I learned an amazing thing about children: they can make themselves understood with anyone, no matter where s/he comes from.

It Wasn’t Just About Teaching

A week before I finished my project, I noticed a woman painting a mural on the wall of the NGO. I and a few other volunteers offered to help her, and she told us to “paint something which makes you remember this project.” We had worked so hard in the past five weeks with the kids and learned so much from them, so we decided to paint a mural of us with our students.

That’s how I ended up spending my last days in Brazil working overtime to paint the walls of the NGO. Along with the original mural, I painted the flags of the countries where the volunteers had come from – the Mexican and Ecuadorian flags were super hard! I also painted the new bathrooms the NGO had built from donations with portraits of boys and girls to label the doors.

Before my AIESEC experience, I would have never expected to be able to accomplish so much in such a short time. The fact that the kids and the teachers who I worked with in Brazil believed in me and my artistic abilities gave me the confidence that I could succeed.

Pushing My Limits and Learning More About Myself

Despite studying literature in university, I had always loved drawing. The encouragement I received from the kids about my drawing skills inspired me to enroll in a course for illustration now that I’ve returned to Italy.

My experience as a Global Volunteer taught me that I can be adaptable, that I can communicate with anyone. I learned that I can get anything done if I put my mind to it. I made connections with people from all over the world and I got the push I needed to pursue my passion for art.

Apply now on aiesec.org and live the experience!


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