Feature Friday: James Passarelli

James Passarelli started teaching group classes with Intercambio in April, 2014. Having moved from New York to Boulder, James was looking for a way to get involved in the community, to meet people who were different “ethnically, culturally, and linguistically,” and to try his hand at teaching. James hopes to be a history teacher in the future. “And so,” James said, “Intercambio gave me the opportunity to throw myself into the fire as far as teaching goes.”

Why Intercambio? (What made you decide to volunteer or what keeps you coming back?)
– Everyone, whether students or coordinators, or volunteers, or people like Rachel and Lee—everyone involved in the program has been absolutely wonderful to work with. It is a big time commitment, so it’s always a tough decision whether you’re going to teach again. It’s one of those things, though, that I think you just kind of make time for. Because every time I come back, I see all the students and how much they want to learn and how much they love being there and just what great people they are.

What is a memorable experience you have had with Intercambio?
– I’ve had an opportunity to become friends with a couple of Columbian students I had in class. One specific experience was going over to their house for their son’s first birthday, which was really quite a fun experience. One of the student’s mothers made a traditional, celebratory Columbian dish, which I had never had. Having them bring me into their place and cook for me, that was one memorable experience.

What has been surprising about working with your students or something unexpected you have learned?
– That these people have three times the responsibility that I do, and yet still come to class. You can tell that sometimes they’re tired just like I am. But the fact that they are such hard working people—it’s kind of astounding to me.

And especially having graduated from college a few years ago. A lot of people go to college because it’s what they do or their parents sent them or whatever it is, and you really take that education for granted. So it’s amazing to see people who have full-time jobs, sometimes two full-time jobs, have families to take care of, and not even speaking English as their first language, and yet they find four hours a week to dedicate to trying to learn.

How has teaching impacted your daily life, conversations, or how you connect with the community?
– I think that working with that positivity that all the staff members, all the other volunteers at Intercambio, and the students bring. I’m not sure it’s something that affects me in a way that I can really measure. But I’m sure that going there twice a week, especially after a long day — you feel tired and start thinking, “I don’t really want to teach today.” But being around that positive energy; it totally revitalizes you. That positive energy has got to have an effect on my day to day life. When I go to work the next morning, it makes me just a little more thankful for what I have, but it probably makes me a better worker, too, having that energy.

And it also makes you think in new ways. Every time that someone asks me a question about, “Why is it this way in the English language,” I rarely know the answer. So it makes me think about other things like simple linguistic rules that I take for granted. And I think anytime you think in a different way, it can only help you stay stimulated and help you intellectually and psychologically.

What was your favorite lesson to teach?
– One game I kind of made up on the spot that I really enjoyed was just passing around an object and having the students come up with some sort of adjective to describe it. So I’m thinking of a class, I think I had ten students at the time, and it was something simple like a pencil. And I thought maybe we can get around and get ten adjectives. But I think we passed the pencil around about four times. I was thinking, “I’ve never thought of that word, or that word.” It was also one of those moments of, wow. You think they have very basic English and yet they’re coming up with all this stuff, being more creative than I would have been when describing a pencil. So that was an experience where I put something together haphazardly and they made what could have been a very lackluster game idea into something that I thought was awesome.

Anything else you want to share?
– It sounds like I’m being paid to say this, but I just want to reiterate what a great experience it’s been. I’m thankful and grateful to Intercambio for existing.