Thursday, May 16, 2013
Talking About America
As a part of their international week, the Memorial International School of Tirana, housed in a former Communist-era school building, was looking for speakers to come talk to their students about their home cultures. Not feeling excited about any of the potential topics that were timely (I loved the idea of talking about women's history but since this isn't women's history month the subject felt a bit out of date), I selected my own that is near and dear to my heart. My presentation on volunteering in America would not only discuss the importance of volunteering for both volunteers and recipients but would also discuss how our Embassy personnel has volunteered in Albania and provide my audience with a list volunteer opportunities for them right here in Tirana. I was excited about my topic and I hoped my audience would share in my enthusiasm. After all, regardless of where I have been living, I've always made an attempt to volunteer and I'm not alone in my efforts. In 2011, over 64 million Americans volunteered the equivalent of $171 billion in U.S. dollars in time and in-kind donations to their communities. Now that is giving back!
I used to speak to large groups on a regular basis but it had been a long time since I spoke formally in front of a group and much to my surprise, I found myself a bit nervous at the prospect of addressing my audience. The forty or so slouching youth sitting in front of me wearing bored expressions on their faces did little to ease my discomfort. I opened my presentation with a YouTube video which seemed to reel in my audience -- or at least earned a round of applause. Most of the audience seemed to warm up to the topic as my presentation went on. Of course there was the group of boys sitting in the back of the room who made faces and threw things at each other for the duration of the entire presentation. (I guess this behavior is not unique to American culture; boys around the world strive to look cool and disinterested when there are girls present). I received a few questions and some polite applause as my presentation concluded so all in all I'm going to assume I did alright.
Did what I say make an impression on my audience? I'm not sure. What I do know is that I shared a little piece of America with this group of teens and perhaps one or two of them will in turn volunteer in their own communities. And if they do, my message was a success.