I’ll always remember this Hungarian refugee girl I used to work with when doing my placement at a school as a Child and Youth Worker. She was very defiant and disrespectful towards one of her teachers and could barely communicate in English. I noticed that this one teacher was too quick to punish instead of trying to figure out what the issues were and this girl would interpret this form of discipline as being unfair because it often came out of misunderstandings. For example, she would get up to grab a pencil that fell on the floor and the teacher immediately assumed she got out of her desk to disrupt other students and spoke to her in a harsh tone of voice to get back to her seat and “behave”. I could hear her mumbling under her breath in Hungarian, what I can only assume were words like “stupid” and “bitch”. I began to realize why this girl defied and disrespected her teacher the way she did. I can only imagine how disrespected this girl felt, so her reaction was to give back what she was given.
I instantly identified with her because of my own experience of not being able to speak English growing up as a child. I would often use facial expressions, hand gestures and drawings to communicate with her. She seemed to find my efforts very amusing which made her laugh a lot. She was very eager to know what my background was. When I told her I was Hispanic, she got really excited and played an Elvis Crespo song on her music player during indoor recess. She wanted to know what the song was about and all I could do was make kissing gestures in the air and we both broke out in laughter.
Despite our inability to communicate in English, our hearts understood each other. We had many great bonding experiences laughing, singing, dancing and playing together but what solidified our relationship was when we were both brought to tears by a story we read together. I remember going to the library with her afternoon class one day and looking for books that had repetitive phrases like in Dr. Seuss books. I introduced her to Dr. Seuss books because I used to love reading and hearing them when I was learning English and she instantly became a fan.
While looking for books that I thought she’d like, I noticed Robert Munsch’s book I Love You Forever. I told her that it was one of my favourite books and she asked me to read it to her. I knew she wouldn’t understand most of the words but the pictures explained it all and the phrase that kept repeating throughout the book was something I knew would stick with her.
Towards the end of the story, I choked up and could feel tears rolling down my face at the exact same moment that tears were rolling down her face. We looked at each other, laughed, than gave each other a hug. I knew she understood the meaning behind the story and realized that behind her tough, defiant exterior, she had a soft, sentimental side. That was the day our hearts bonded through tears.