The things we take with us

Living on your own after college is a weird thing. It’s different than going away to college because there aren’t school deadlines and you aren’t living in a dorm. A friend of mine recently pointed out that everyone’s college experience is not the same, so I will speak for myself here. For me, going to college was of course different that what I was used to before and provided a much-needed culture shock in some ways, but it was still a padded experience. I lived on campus all four years (minus the semester I was abroad in New Zealand), which meant that I always had a meal plan and I always had a place to live that was looked after and regulated by the university (UMBC). There was a hearty helping of privilege involved with my college experience, something that has become painfully real to me since meeting other recent graduates from other areas of the country. My point is that even in my privileged experience of college, there were things I learned that have been absolutely pivotal for my transformation into an adult and a functioning citizen of my community. I’ve been reflecting on these things as I have moved out into “the real world”, or as close to “the real world” as you can get in a year-long service program. I’ve been thinking about how the things I’ve learned in college and in my life have supported me and given me the tools to be successful in life. In this blog post, I wanted to share a bit about this as a way to express my gratitude for these things.

I graduated from UMBC with two majors and a minor. I studied Gender and Women’s Studies and Environmental Studies with a minor in Music (fun fact — I sometimes leave out the fact that I have a minor as well, because it makes me feel like an overachieving nerd). As a recent graduate of college, I always get asked how I will use those things for a career. “So, what are you planning to do with that?” Well, the answer is, whatever I dang well please! To be honest, I’ve BSed the answer to this question so far because I don’t truly know what the answer is yet. What I have learned though, is that the things I have picked up and the skills I developed through these top-of-the-line programs at UMBC have stayed with me, and are helping me now. In Gender and Women’s Studies, I absorbed information about how identities intertwine with one another, and can mean privilege or marginalization for people. Intersectionality was one of the most important concepts I grasped as a GWST student (look it up, it’s pretty cool). I also learned about the knowledge of experience, meaning that everyone’s experience as a person, everyone’s story is valid and can be treated as true knowledge that can teach us about our world. I have found these things to be invaluable and applicable to any job, any situation. Of course the information I took in from my Environmental Studies major has been extremely useful as well. I took courses on environmental policy, how gender intersects with the natural environment, how some populations of people are more susceptible to the effects of environmental destruction than others, and so on. In my service placement at Great Kids Farm this year, all of these things are relevant. The Gender and Women’s Studies as well as the Environmental Studies. I’m sure there will be another blog post at some point about how these things are coming into play for me at the farm. So far, I can tell you that the farm serves the children in the Baltimore City Public School system, some of which are in situations where they haven’t been very far out of the city or haven’t been exposed to much in the natural world. A good chunk of this population come from marginalized communities. Gender and Women’s Studies has taught me that the experiences of these children are 100% valid and that their narratives can provide a more complete picture of the world. Environmental Studies has taught me that rotating crops is important, climate change is real and needs to be addressed, and Communities of Color and poor communities are more at risk to feel the effects of environmental damage than white or more affluent communities. This is about environmental justice, which is another fascinating topic to read up on.

These are the things I take with me. Thanks be to God.

Of course my academics will always be useful to me, but the things I learned about interacting with other people and my community from attending UMBC have been more valuable to me than I can actually put into words. Through student organizations such as ┬áLutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry (or “Jesus Club” as we have lovingly named it), Students for Environmental Awareness, Student Government Association, Residential Life, participating in the STRiVE Leadership Retreat, and others have taught me about what it means to be a good citizen. How do you work with others for a common goal in an efficient way? How do you network with others in a way to make community partnerships that will strengthen your organization? Who are the stakeholders? Who are your contacts? With these skills of community organizing, I have been empowered to start my own projects. These tools in my community-building toolkit have empowered and inspired me to practice these things in the “real world” and in my year of service. At one point in my life, community organizing and activism seemed like a far-off thing that wasn’t attainable outside of the UMBC bubble, but as I grew and changed, I realized this is not so. I have the power to take the initiative in a project and make it happen.

These are the things I take with me. Thanks be to God.

This blog post has started out as a “what did you learn in college” essay, but I promise you there are other things from my life that I have continued to take with me. I am forever grateful for the tidbits of knowledge my parents have given me. Some of it is practical information such as salt will make water boil faster, always use the buddy system in a new place, why leaving things plugged into an outlet is bad if you’re not using them, how to check my oil in my car, and how to change a tire. Other wisdom has to do with how to treat yourself and interact with the world. Two things that are particularly useful for me at this point in my life are: “Let yourself off the hook” and “Find where you can do the most good”. I should paint these things on our bathroom mirror here at the house so I can be reminded every single day. Let yourself off the hook. Don’t beat yourself up for small things. Find where you can do the most good. How can I best serve my community today? Thank you to my parents, who instilled these things in me.

These are the things I take with me. Thanks be to God.

Finally, and arguably the most important, is my faith. I carry the love of Jesus Christ with me every day and I get to share that with the world. My faith journey has been something like this so far: I was baptized into the Episcopal Church when I was a young kid, I followed my parents and church family and did what I was supposed to do (Sunday school, mission trips, etc), and continued to go to church in college and after college. Except, in college it was different. My family and church family weren’t around to help me decide what to believe about being a Christian. I began to discover that for myself. I am so grateful for this period of learning in my life. Our campus ministry, Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry (“Jesus Club” as I mentioned before) gave me the space to discuss my questions with my peers (and with two awesome campus ministry chaplain ladies) and fill in the blanks for myself. This was my spiritual home, and this is what brought me to the Episcopal Service Corps. I can’t explain how important this ministry is, and how it has impacted my life. For that I say, ALLELUIA! This journey has brought me to a point where I am passionate about sharing the love of Jesus (and the Episcopal Church) with others, which has brought the idea of going to seminary into my head. I will say that I am in a period of discernment, and I am open to what God will call me to do next.

These are the things I take with me. Thanks be to God. AMEN.

God in the midst of us: An overview of things so far

 

It’s been two weeks. Two weeks of getting to know each other, learning about how to form community within the ESC house and in the wider areas of our neighborhood and the city. What does it mean to build consensus? Why should we care about racism as Christians? How do you write a house covenant with guidelines that hold the house community accountable? How can we use one-on-one conversations as building blocks of community? These are only some of the questions we explored in our orientation time. Now, as we are preparing to start our service on Tuesday morning, I have spent some time reflecting on our journey so far, and I have been thinking about how God has been walking with us in our journeys so far.

My journey started on Sunday, August 20th. After my church service at home, I started the drive up to Baltimore from Salisbury, MD (my home). When I was about halfway there, I got a battery light in my car, followed by a check-engine light. Long story short, my mom came to my rescue, helped me load all of my things into her car, and drove me the rest of the way to Baltimore. What a day! I arrived and then went on a walking tour of our neighborhood, Bolton Hill. Having car troubles made the day extremely stressful, and when things are that bad, it is hard to see God working around you. Boy, I was so glad to see my mom that day. God was definitely present there, and also in the conversations we had in the car on the way to Baltimore. It was almost like God was telling me to take some time out and enjoy the company of my family a little more. Don’t take that for granted.

Orientation was full of the Holy Spirit. I have enjoyed all of the conversations about living in intentional community with each other this year. I have also very much enjoyed getting to know the other Gileads and exploring the city with them on our Baltimore scavenger hunt. It just so happens we are all Episcopalians, but have different backgrounds with the Church, and different paths that have led us to our year of service. It fills my heart with joy to be living with Christians my age equally as passionate about justice and service as I am. We will all be doing different kinds of service this year, but it is all God’s work.

One of my favorite parts of orientation was our official commissioning by the Assisting Bishop of the Diocese of Maryland. The Holy Spirit was certainly present when alumni, program team members, ESC MD board members, clergy, and other supporters of the program all gathered together to pray for us and officially welcome us to Baltimore and wish us Godspeed in our service year. My favorite part was the blessing of our hands to do Christ’s work this year. Bishop Chilton came to each of us with a prayer and with holy oil to put on our hands. It was very special.

I have been overwhelmed in the best way possible by the support given to us by the ESC MD team as well as by Memorial Episcopal Church in Bolton Hill. Our residence is part of the rectory of the parish, and we have been so thankful to have such a wonderful place to live in for this year.

And now, we prepare our hearts and minds for our service to begin on Tuesday. I can’t wait to start my work at Great Kids Farm and see where God leads me this year!

Always On the Road: NYC

Some Baltimoreans say: Baltimore city is like the mini-version of NYC. After staying in Baltimore city for a while, I finally made my way to NYC over Easter break. The overall experience is, amazing!

It was a really special trip to me. Six years ago, when I first arrived in the states, NYC is the first place I stayed for three nights before I headed to FL to meet my host family. I have heard people all over the world talking about this international city and what American dreams mean to them. Of course, I had no idea what American dreams mean to me at that point as a 17-year-old who first traveled abroad by myself. Now, after six years’ growth through high school, college and work, I seem to start to understand the passion people have when they talk about their American dreams. It all start from the moment when your feet touched NYC.

Taking Boltbus from Baltimore to NYC is really convenient and affordable. Plus I got to experience the city views when I got close to the destination. It is interesting when I looked back to Baltimore city as the bus was passing by downtown where I have lived for almost a year. The city is beautiful, especially under the sunrise. I just seldom pay attention to when living here daily.

NYC is a whole new story. Within the four days I was there, I toured Columbia University, Central Park, Wall Street, the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, Time Square, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Manhattan School of Music. I think I tried my best being a wonderful tourist and making good use of every second staying in NYC. Catching up with old friends, visiting different sites and trying out tasty food all made my NYC trip exciting and memorable. Yet another part I really like is just sitting in the subway observing different kinds of people on their way to work, school, or like me, busy with being a tourist. It is the diversity rooted in this city’s every corner attracts me.

If now you ask me to come up with words describing American dream, I think I will choose diversity, freedom, and acceptance. In New York, maybe there is no such words describing nationality, race, social class, or other classifications we tend to use in society. Everyone seems to be the same yet so different at the same time. A New Yorker can also be a tourist, a tourist can become a New Yorker. Then, what role did I play this time? Guess I am an old friend coming back to visit. New York seems to stay the same the past six years while I have changed so much. Glad we can still catch up.

I did miss New York on my way back to Baltimore, miss the diversity, the atmosphere, the fast-speed life, yet I think I miss Baltimore too. No matter how long you have stayed in a city, if you ever considered it as your home, then it became your home. Home can be anywhere our hearts and minds point to.

I have been called a world traveler and my experience being part of ESC program so far granted me more courage to see more parts of this country and the world. I hope I can always carry the diverse mind-set and acceptance no matter where I go, who I interact with.

Always on the road, body or mind.

Where are we going next……