It’s crazy to look back and realize we created these incredibly meaningful relationships with kids without even speaking their language. Of course, the Vietnamese coaches helped us immensely in translating each class; however, there was so much outside of that. Although there are limits to what you can convey without verbal communication, there was still so much we did with the kids through body language, our attempts at Vietnamese, their attempts at English, and hand gestures.
One of my closest relationships was with an 8th grade boy named Khang. Every day he wore a black baseball cap, and I wore my Houston Astros hat. Maybe around the end of Week One, every time I saw him I would walk up to him and turn his hat backwards then I would proceed to do the same to mine. It became our little thing. If he ever saw me without my hat backwards, he would turn mine around. If I saw him without his hat on, he would go fetch it or retrieve it from a friend who he had given it to. This little hat tradition of ours grew into a daily ritual. However small a gesture, I will never forget his black hat and smile and how so little non-verbal communication can still create a bond.
Another way Khang and a lot of the kids communicated with us was through jokes and games. Almost every time I was with Khang he would do “the tap you on the back of the shoulder and make you look the wrong way” thing. I fell for it almost every time. We would both look at each other and laugh, and I would try to get him back next time. Thumbs wars were another pretty universal way of communicating non-verbally. We would stick out our hands, count “1, 2, 3” in English or Vietnamese (everyone knew that in both languages), and start the game.
“I feel like the last day summed up our relationship to a “T” – always joking around but always smiling and laughing at the same time. Our small acts of non-verbal communication made Khang unforgettable and one of the hardest goodbyes.”
One of my favorite moments with Khang was actually on the last day when I came into class after having drunk my iced coffee so my cup was just full of ice. Of course, I immediately made attempts to throw the ice at him or put it down his shirt. Sometimes I was successful. Then he started to catch the ice and do the same back to me. Later that day at the award ceremony, I felt ice down my back all of a sudden. I turned around to Khang who was smiling a devilish smile. My first thought, “Where on earth did he get this ice, and how can I get some to get even?”
I feel like the last day summed up our relationship to a “T” – always joking around but always smiling and laughing at the same time. Our small acts of non-verbal communication made Khang unforgettable and one of the hardest goodbyes.
All in all, some of the relationships I made that were honestly more based on non-verbal communication than verbal communication opened my eyes to the equal importance of verbal and non-verbal communication. Moving forward, I think this is a good reminder of how sometimes actions speak louder than words.