By Jordan Lidstrom
“Integrate! Integrate! Integrate!” Integrate was the most common word I heard in my pre-service training and the importance of reaching out to your community is something I understood and agreed with. I came to my site with the knowledge that because the students were in vacation I would not be going into the school and instead needed to spend my time just getting to know the community. With luck I was placed in a site with another volunteer, Danny, and he helped me to get to know some people. He was invited by some students of his documentary class to watch a dance performance practice. I went with him and this was where I first met my dance friends and watched them perform.
My luck kept going as Carnaval happened to be right around the corner, and I was invited by them to come to a dance ensayo (rehearsal). I decided to go and at the very least do the dances to get in a good little workout. While at this practice they convinced me to dance with them in one performance called La Guacherna. I practiced in and outside of designated practice time with my friends to prepare. While learning the official dance, my friends would also teach me how to dance cumbia, mapalé, puloi, and champeta. Now let me tell you, this knowledge was very useful during this busy Carnaval music-and-dancing time. I could constantly “wow” people with my mediocre dance steps knowledge while making my dance friends proud as well. When it finally came time to dance in the performance I was ready and confident in my black, red, green, and yellow conga outfit. My performance might have been short, but I enjoyed every minute!
Being part of this group made me realize that I had been welcomed into this beautiful little sub-community within my community that allowed me to express myself, learn about the culture around me, and share bits of my own culture with them (although I’m sure they would be quick to tell you that the “gringa-style” of dancing is not something to be sought after). Having a rhythmic schedule of a place and time where I could go to dance, observe, chat, learn, and relax really made me feel more at home in my community.
For the time being I have decided to focus on getting everything accomplished in my community that I want to do first, but that does not keep me from stopping in at the practices every now and then, nor from chatting with the group instructor and his family. I still feel very welcome in the group and cherish the time I spent with them. I look forward to the moments I will share and plan to continue participating once I feel better established in my schedule and the idea for my service. I am glad I chose to focus on getting to know the members in my community better when I first started at site because it truly helped me feel more like a puzzle piece that fit right in when I fully expected to be the match-less sock not knowing what to do.
We say “integration!” three times not because we need to be reminded of its importance, but rather because it is three times more helpful in giving you a smooth transition into your site than any textbook preparation or knowledge.