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


~April 2012~

The Golden Rule

beach footprints


Last week while a teacher was absent, I was asked to run her class. Typically as a Language and Culture assistant here in southern Spain, I take four students out of the classroom at a time to run a conversation hour, and thus, although I know the students, until last week I had never been charged with managing, teaching and disciplining all of them at the same time. From my experience as an AmeriCorps volunteer last year and my tendency to be quite bossy, in theory this task of running a class on my own seemed easy enough. In actuality it was a crisis. In this class, a student slapped another student who then began crying. Simultaneously, another student began to laugh at the crying boy. I was shocked to say the least. I have seen students misbehave before and even though these students were fourteen, such conduct was not beyond my imagination. What was stunning was their lack of remorse for their actions. The girl who had slapped the boy seemingly saw nothing wrong with what she had done, even though he was in tears before her. The girl who was laughing, as the rest of the class sat in silence, became quite angry and defensive when I suggested she quiet herself and be more respectful.

After class I brought the students to the teachers´ office and explained what had happened and they then brought them to the office of the headmaster. My fellow teachers and the administrator agreed that such conduct was inappropriate, but the students still seemed stunned at what repercussions were unfolding before them. Their parents were called, but beyond that, I don´t know what, if any, actions were taken. The next day, the circumstances were the same – I was to run the class of students by myself and, to my surprise, the two who had gotten in trouble were there. But this time I brought two my best friend, who was visiting from the United States, a set of rules – 1. Listen, 2. Hands to Yourself, 3. Be nice. The students smiled at this and seemed to appreciate both my awknowledgement of the previous day´s events and my standards for their behavior.

What I have learned living an ocean away from home is that people like rules. We might kick and scream and say we want a life of pure freedom, but in reality, most of us like some structure, a degree of accountability and the assurance that someone is watching over us. That said, you never know what someone´s background, standards or internal guiding rules maybe. To effectively run a class, a team or any group of human beings, wherever in the world you may be, it is always important to establish rules, regardless of how obvious as they may seem to you. I cannot ensure that having my rules in this class of teenagers is the reason why the second day went so much better than the first, nor can I promise that rules in and of themselves ensure tranquility, but I do know without them, we as human beings are rather lost. Everyone has their own set of standards and ideas on what is right and wrong, but by being clear about your own standards, you are bound to get better results.

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ellie on beach


Ellie 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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