Last Thursday was like any other Thursday at our placement so far, or so I thought. Thursdays differ from every other day in the week because that is class day, when St. Margaret’s Centre runs organized class sessions instead of just allowing their members to choose whatever they want to do throughout the day. Myself and Karoline engaged with the members of both the morning and afternoon class, talking and answering questions as we normally would while taking part in the classes. (It seems as if the people of the UK know a lot about the United States to begin with, but they like to hear it with our funny American accents for some reason.)
As the day went on, I began to notice that one of the members was taking far more interest to me and what I had been talking about than everyone else was. She continued to ask about where I was from, where I had been in the United States, and for me to even show her the geography of New York City, California, and a number of other places in the country. Although this caused us to stray from the class at hand, neither of us was all that disappointed as I got to teach for a little while and she got to learn. I spent a large part of the afternoon showing and explaining maps off of my phone, chronicling stories of my life and of life at Duke, and with everything that I said she seemed to become even more interested. As selfish as this seems, I love talking about myself, and when I can find someone that is so engaged and curious about the first twenty years of my life, I have no problem at all going on for a while.
After the day had ended and the members had gone home, the staff came over to myself and Karoline to laud us for an especially well done job. They began to thank us and tell us how much they appreciated our engaging with the members, even if it meant taking on a bit of flack on behalf of America. Then they turned to me and pointed out something that is really going to stick with me long after this program ends. The woman that I had been speaking with over the span of two hours, rarely spoke to anyone at all. Through a combination of shyness and being totally lost in her art, she typically stayed within herself except to occasionally ask the instructor questions about art. Today was not at all like the others. She was happy, engaged, learning, and generally excited about what was going on around her. She might not have participated as whole-heartedly in the course as she normally does, but she was enjoying her day and seeing the brightness in the world. That’s what St. Margaret’s Centre is for, for making people happy.