My mom texted me today and said, “Today is World Refugee Day!”
I know every other day is National Siblings Day or Doughnut Day or whatever can possibly be made into a reason to celebrate something, but it reminded me of a blog post I wrote three years ago about World Refugee Day at UNHCR in Madrid.
This year I got to spend World Refugee Day with high school refugees in Lansing. Today was a class day at GLOBE camp and among our mish-mash of lessons was one about skills necessary for giving a presentation. Things like good posture, being organized, making eye contact, and smiling. After one of the teachers presented the lesson, we broke into small groups and they rotated around to the stations to practice these skills.
My station was smiling. This is clearly a skill that does not need to be taught, but we talked about the importance of smiling in a presentation, and how smiling can make other people feel.
“Have you ever heard that smiling can be contagious?” I slowly but enthusiastically asked, emphasizing key words. I was met with blank stares.
“Does anyone know the word contagious?” Their expressions remained the same.
Coughing and acting sick, I said that the student to my left might catch my sickness. And the same can be true with a smile. If I smile at you, you just might catch it! They thought this was pretty silly.
To play our game we split the circle in half. One group had to be serious – not smile, while the other group gave them their biggest smiles and tried to make them smile back. At first I was met with looks that said, Teacher we are high schoolers and this is a stupid game. But they got into it. They tried to stay serious but would slowly crack a smirk that turned into a grin and then a giggle. I lost every time because I would instantly break out in laughter seeing the things they would do to try and crack their classmates.
One of my favorite things about teaching or working with kids, especially high schoolers, is the way you can shift the energy in a group. How they can saunter in being so skeptical and thinking that there is no way we could do anything fun or mildly entertaining but when they begin an activity or work together they start laughing and smiling and leave with a completely different attitude than when they started. That is magical to me. And so is the power of a smile. When I can barely communicate with these kids with words, I can always use a smile.