The following post was written by Gap Year Fellow Shelby Watson.

I can still remember the smell of my kindergarten classroom. I associated that smell with fear and missing my “mommy.” Every once in a while, I will get a whiff of that scent and I can feel that same emotion creep up inside of me.

Today, I have a close relationship with my kindergarten teacher Allison Davis. She offered me something years ago that I’m just now able to fully recognize. During kindergarten, I did not realize how blessed I was to have teachers who not only taught me but also loved me. I have a better understanding of this duality now that the roles have reversed – now that I am the teacher consoling the students.

Being pulled from my mom on the first day of school was heart wrenching for both of us. Looking back now, I see that I was handed right over into the arms of my caring, capable teacher. And really, she was more than a teacher. She was someone who took the time to try to make me smile. Ms. Davis had an entire class of kids who were probably going through the same tragedy, however, she seemed to always make time for each of us. She did not have to take that much interest in me, but she did. For that, I am forever grateful.

Fast forward 13 years later and I am now the teacher noticing the kids who miss their mommies. Three days a week I work at a preschool called God’s Little Lighthouse in Fish Hoek, South Africa. A few weeks ago, two new students joined the class. They were twin sisters who spoke no English. I could see the fear in their eyes as they walked into their new classroom. I could feel the stiffness in their bodies as I tried to hug them. I said hello to both, even though they probably did not understand me. After a rough couple minutes, I decided to just smile at them each time they looked my way. Sadly, I did not see any teeth or even a little a smile from either one of them that first day – only confusion and sadness.

Three days later as I walked into class, I was greeted by two big smiles with missing teeth. My heart was immediately warmed by the fact that the two little girls were starting to feel more comfortable. During play time, I watched the girls jump around and interact with the other kids, which is progress that seemed far away on the first day they arrived.

After play time, I started a movie for the kids. I tried to keep a watch on the whole class, however, my eyes were constantly drawn back to the twins. My mind goes straight to the memories of my first days of kindergarten. All I could do was pray that these little girls would become more and more comfortable.

The language barrier makes it hard to communicate with the girls. So instead of talking I just surround them with hugs and smiles. Love is a language anyone can speak if they just try.