Home / Stories / Learning from Teaching

Learning from Teaching


Editor’s Note: Missioner Tom Little reflects on how beginning a new teaching position in Bolivia led him to celebrate the personality differences around him instead of being unsettled by them.

This semester I started teaching English classes at the UAC. This has been a fulfilling experience because I get to see my students make noticeable progress with the things I am teaching them. One thing that really stands out to me is the differences in abilities and interests that my students have.

Like my students, volunteers have their own unique strengths and weaknesses when it comes to living in community.

The process of acclimating new people to the way that we live in the volunteer house is sometimes a challenge. The people who live here have to juggle cooking, cleaning, and maintaining relationships and extracurricular activities in addition to our jobs at the university. For some volunteers, these activities are not things that they enjoy or they find them more difficult than they expected.

There is a saying that I used to hear a lot growing up: “we are the stars of our own movie.” This is a very accurate description of how I was living in community. I became very focused on my own strengths and weaknesses as a way to get by in a place that is so different from what I am used to. I was looking for something to control in this place with so much uncertainty. However, the problem was that I was projecting them onto others around me as well.

I was living with the mentality that everyone should look forward to the tasks that I like and dread the ones that I don’t like.

After seeing the differences among my students, I was able to realize that the same thing is true for my fellow community members. Some of them loathe the activities that I find relaxing and are rejuvenated by the activities that I avoid.

Being able to realize this has made me more compassionate to the struggles of the people around me. All of our journeys to Bolivia have been different and that is one of the things that make community so great. We fill each other’s gaps and open each other up to new experiences that allow us to grow.

Reflection Question: Do you often insist on being the star of your own movie?

From Southern California, Tom graduated from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, with a degree in crop science. He feels a deep connection to food and plans to work on agricultural development and food security while on mission. Tom served at Carmen Pampa University in Carmen Pampa, Bolivia.