The Smiley Award supports global educational opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students in UNC Greensboro’s School of Education (SOE) and is presented annually. One of last year’s recipients, Dauria Harrison, was able to spend part of her summer on an immersive and service-learning program in Costa Rica.
Harrison, who is pursuing a minor in American Sign Language within the SOE’s Department of Specialized Education Services, has goals of traveling to Latin American countries to work with students, potentially teaching them English. But at the heart of what she wants to do is establish meaningful connections with them in their native language.
Her experience in Costa Rica was only four weeks long but made a lasting impact on Harrison. The first two weeks of the program were spent working with students in both first and sixth grades. The second two weeks saw Harrison working in a facility for the elderly.
She said, “The sixth graders were the ones that stole my heart. We just came in and we were able to do more arts and craft activities with them. But through that, we were able to foster conversations, learn more about their life, and practice the Spanish we were learning in the classroom. By the third time we were there, I had a group of girls who whenever we came in, they ran up to us and wanted to tattoo their names with pen on their arms and make us write their signatures and all kinds of little stuff that kids love to do. And you really get attached really quickly.”
Harrison entered the final weeks thinking that they would be at a nursing home and would be playing board games with the residents. That was not the case.
She said, “The elderly who were there paid to be there, almost like a day camp. Most of them were 75 years or older. One of the women who I was talking to the most was 90 years old. And then they would have dance parties, and she would be dancing without a cane or a walker and wear me out! I was like, ‘Wow,’ the vibrance of their life and the stories they had to tell, because they are people from literally a whole different century of what it means to grow up in Costa Rica versus the kids that we were working with.”
While not able to use her sign language skills during this experience, Harrison witnessed how community members interacted with a neighbor who was losing her hearing as she aged. “They did more gestural signs, which is something that’s common in the deaf community, even here. If you’re not exposed to the predominant language inside, then you’ll have home signs…you’ll create your own mechanism in order to communicate,” she said.
Participants in the program lived with host families and Harrison was able to bond with the family she stayed with. One weekend she and another student spent the weekend doing puzzles and learning about each other. It also helped her build her Spanish skills, which she described as “proficient” before the trip.
She said, “It was really funny because you’re learning how to focus in on your piece (of the puzzle), but also listen to the directions because you never hear directions in Spanish in that manner. It was fun just getting engaged.”
Harrison encourages others considering a trip abroad to take the leap and have the experience, saying, “If you’re in my boat and you feel like you’re too low-income to go, don’t let that be a determining factor. I was able to pay for it between Smiley and some of the other UNCG scholarships and some money I was able to pull in from work. I honestly thought it was an unreachable dream. A lot of the seniors and juniors that were there said they wished they would have done it sooner. So, if you’re a freshman and you’re thinking about doing it, just do it!”
For more information on the Smiley Award visit the SOE Global website.