Thursday, August 30, 2012

"The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page" - Saint Augustine

I have arrived safely in Philadelphia! I actually got here a week and a half ago on Monday, August 20th and was picked up at the train station. I was lucky to have spent the weekend in DC visiting my brother so the ride was not very long. However, it was difficult carrying all of my luggage through the many forms of transport, but all's well that ends well...

I was one of the first ones to arrive in Philly so I hung out with a few of the other volunteers who arrived early until everyone else trickled in. We spent most of the first day waiting for the 28 of us to arrive and completing the standard introductions and get-to-know-you chat. I was especially excited to meet my two community members (the two other girls who I will be living with in Philadelphia).
Here is a photo of Caroline (right), Katharine (left) and I before our volunteering mass and commissioning on August 26th:

Most of orientation was spent getting to know each other, exploring our personalities, practicing different prayer and spirituality exercises, and socializing with our communities as well as Augustinian friars and alumni. We often visited different Augustinian communities for dinner, and man do they eat well! I cannot imagine cooking for more than 30 people, but the food was delicious. I have to say that I am pretty excited that I am living in Philadelphia because we will never pass up a dinner invitation. There are 28 Augustinian Volunteers this year serving at domestic sites in Chicago, Lawrence, San Diego, Ventura, and Philadelphia, as well as international sites in Peru and South Africa. It was interesting seeing the many connections between the volunteers and others that we met, so many people were alumni of the same college, lived in the same state, had mutual friends, as well as various other similarities. I guess it really is a small world! A fellow Stonehiller, Lacie Michaelson, is going to be serving in Peru this year. We both worked in Campus Ministry last year. Here is a photo of us before commissioning mass:

The Augustinian tradition is very focused on community. The term community encompasses many different things, such as the broader community in which we live, the community in which we service, and importantly our home community. Therefore, every individual community is very important to the success of the program. My community consists of Caroline, Katharine, and I. We moved into our apartment two nights ago and it was very spacious and homey. The Augustinians believe in living comfortably, yet simply. We have a set budget for each month and are responsible for reporting our finances, taking care of our apartment, cooking dinners together as a community, and completing prayer nights bi-weekly. Your community is essentially your family, so you are responsible to each other and also serve as a support system. Each volunteer works at a different service site, and the service can be exhausting and emotionally draining at times, so it's important to be able to come home and be able to rely on your support system. Orientation really stressed being accountable to each other and how to resolve differences since there will definitely be times of struggle and stress both at work and at home.

I start at my service site tomorrow! I will be working at Philadelphia VIP, a pro bono law firm, as a housing paralegal. My responsibility is to help keep clients who are facing homelessness in their homes, so I match needy clients with volunteer attorneys and help to prepare cases as well as attend court weekly. I work on a team of colleagues who are doing similar work, as the law firm covers all types of legal issues in relation to social justice. I am considering applying to law school so I am especially interested in seeing the connection between social justice and law and exploring the different avenues I can take if I choose to pursue a legal career in the future.

This year will definitely be a large adjustment for me, being in a new city, living with new people, working full-time, living on a tight budget, and being in the "real world" with very serious responsibilities and making decisions that affect both myself and others. I am a wide range of emotions from nervous, to excited, to curious, to exhausted, to antsy, to determined. I plan to try to regularly update this blog to keep you all updated on my physical, emotional, and spiritual journey this year.

At commissioning mass all of the volunteers read our commitment statements that we individually wrote. Here is mine, framed and on my bedside table, so I can remind myself each morning what I have devoted myself to:

Send me blessings and good wishes as I begin the next phase of my life!

Monday, August 13, 2012

“From small beginnings come great things.”

As some of you may recall, the last time I created a blog was when I was studying abroad in Cameroon, Africa. I cannot believe that it's been two years since I departed for my semester abroad. In some ways a lot has changed since then, but in other ways, things remain quite similar. Alas. I am beginning a new adventure worthy of documentation.

The reason I have decided to create a new blog is because in just a few days I will be leaving for Philadelphia for ten months as an Augustinian Volunteer. Instead of immediately entering the workforce or going onto graduate or law school, I have decided to do a year of domestic post graduate service.

I had a lot of difficulty deciding just what I wanted to do when I graduated. Luckily, though, I had several different opportunities. I was accepted as a NYC Teaching Fellow, where I would spend two years earning a Masters degree in Education and working as a middle or high school math teacher in NYC. I was accepted into graduate school for International Relations at Syracuse University and Boston University. I was accepted into an experiential graduate program in sustainable development with SIT, the study abroad office I traveled with. I was also accepted into a couple of other service opportunities, including a year in South Africa with the Augustinian Volunteers. So what made me choose domestic work in Philadelphia?

Well, I guess there are a couple of reasons. Logistically, if I decide to go onto graduate school next year (I deferred my options) domestic service will conclude the end of June so I can start school in the fall. However, the major reason I chose to stay domestic was an experience I had this past March in Camden, NJ. Stonehill College offers alternative spring break trips called HOPE trips. This past year I went to Camden for a week. I was not sure what to expect, as most of my focus has always been on the global world and poverty and development abroad. Spending time in Camden really shook me to my core and showed me just how much need there is for development even in the U.S. I was not ignorant to this fact per se, as I have previously done a trip to Tennessee and spent a week after Christmas in the Bronx for a service trip, but it was surely eye-opening. After spending a semester in Cameroon I made a decision that I wanted a career focused in international development or international law, but I think before I venture onto this path I need to spend some more time in my own country assessing needs and gaining experience.

As an Augustinian Volunteer I will be working with Philadelphia VIP as a paralegal. My specific focus will be legal issues surrounding homelessness. I will be working directly with clients and volunteer attorneys and even have the opportunity to attend court on a weekly basis. I have always had a keen interest in law, and so this position combines law with social justice, which is another great passion of mine. I will be living with two other girls in an apartment in Philly who are doing different full-time positions, as the program focuses heavily on community living. Orientation starts in a week from today. I am a bit nervous about the religious focus, to be honest, as I consider myself somewhat religious, however for me service has always been somewhat separate from my Catholic identity. I think the next ten months will be just what I need to develop and grow both as an individual and member of society before I decide just where my life is heading...

So join me on my newest adventure :) T-minus seven days until Philadelphia, PA!

Here's the link to the Augustinian Volunteers website:
Here's a link to the Philadelphia VIP website: