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.

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