Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Importance of a Smile

One of my favorite experiences on this trip has been conducting interviews for our final independent project. A few months ago, I never would have imagined saying this. Back in February, the night before our first set of interviews investigating people’s perceptions toward Dengue, I was a nervous mess trying to memorize key Spanish phrases. Then the next day, I was completely intimidated by the language barrier and barely spoke anything besides what was written down. Every time I tried to construct a sentence, the interviewee would give a confused look before turning to my partner to ask what I was saying. It was very discouraging, but I continued to try, and if nothing worked, I would at least maintain a friendly face.

I am proud to say that three months later I have had a completely different experience. For our research project we conducted interviews consisting of: a 49-question survey, an informed consent form, and supplemental materials, all of which needed to be explained in Spanish. Not only could I speak and be understood, I could also build rapport and hold a conversation with each interviewee. This would never have been impossible at the beginning of the semester, but now, from all our hard work at CRLA, faculty led projects, and even just with conversational Spanish with staff, my Spanish improved immensely.

In case of confusion during interviews, I was able to explain each question in a different way and when the moment allowed, I even cracked jokes. As a result, I could see my interviewees visibly relax and actually enjoy our conversation. Likewise, with such a small community, I started getting recognized and people even started helping me recruit others for interviews. I had a moment of pride when I heard myself referred to as “that friendly girl” and they said, “you should help her, she knows what she’s talking about” to their friends.

From this experience, I have gained a different kind of confidence. I know now that I have the ability to communicate despite language and cultural barriers, and I think at the root of this ability, is knowing how to be friendly in new situations.

Elizabeth Stratton

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