Crossing cultural boundaries at El Buen Pastor

By: Kendra Bragg, El Buen Pastor 

When I was deciding what to write about for my first blog I went through a list. So much has happened since I started serving at El Buen Pastor. I could write about how challenging it’s been to structure an interesting music program for some of older students.

I could write about how exciting it has been to see kids getting genuinely interested in learning about instruments and how they work. I could write about how proud I am of the younger kids I teach for learning their colors and animals in English. But I’m not going to. Instead, I’m going to tell you about the amazing community I get to serve.

I did my dead-level best not to approach this opportunity with an over-inflated view of myself. I reminded myself early on that I was going to face challenges and failures. I’m a graduate student who knows next to nothing about teaching English-speaking kids, let alone ELL students. I accepted this opportunity because I wanted experience, and boy am I getting it. I expected to be working with children in a primarily Latino community. What I didn’t expect is how at-home I would feel here.

All of my students can be considered TCKs, or third culture kids. That means that they’re being raised in a culture that differs from their parents, and as such face a unique set of challenges. As a TCK myself, I can say with honesty that I get those challenges. I get the questions. Am I part this culture, or that one? Is enjoying this culture a betrayal of my heritage? Do people in this new culture see me as an other? Do people in my family see me as an other?

These are tough questions for adults to grapple with. Now imagine that you’re in elementary school, trying to really master a language you’re not used to, deal with these complicated emotions, and figure out common core math. It’s no easy task, and the only way to get through it is with a lot of support and a strong community of people who get it surrounding you.

And that’s what amazes me about El Buen Pastor: it is a community. It’s not a program, a charity, an organization. It is a group of parents, pastors, educators, and volunteers who believe that community and a sense of belonging are integral to the physical, emotional, academic, and spiritual development of their children. It’s a community that believes that Latino culture is beautiful and to be shared, enjoyed, and preserved. It’s a community that loves and hopes in the future.

Sometimes walking into El Buen is like going back into my international school overseas. Not because of the language or the food being served. No, it’s because of the closeness of the families, the love shared between neighbors, and the utter lack of pretense. A lot of days, El Buen feels less like “going to serve” and more like going back to the place where I grew up. Yes, this old church building with it’s brightly-painted walls, small bathrooms, and kitchen that is always being used feels like home. It feels like home because it’s overflowing with love and understanding. People saying with their actions, “I get it and I’m here.” Maybe that’s the most important thing I can bring. Yes, I want my group of learners to be able to know “forte” at the drop of a hat, but more than that I want them to know they’re not alone. And don’t we all want that?

November 5, 2015