Monday, April 5, 2010


I honestly cannot believe I am here…And, what is most exciting about that is that I mean that in a genuinely positive way! Normally by the end of a term (as Joanne might be able to attest to from last term), I am uttering the words “I cannot believe I am here…again” because I have screwed myself into a position of having to fight for my life. The interesting thing about that is that I am, in a way, fighting for my life right now, vying for that final TWO per cent! But, this time I seem to have a much better handle on it. There is a pure sense of calm about what I need to do to pull myself out of this hole that I dug for myself because I am beginning to learn what it feels like to truly believe in what I am doing, and more importantly, in myself.

Joanne often asks, ‘What are you doing here?,’ ‘What does Beyond Borders mean to you?’ ; questions that have always provoked a lot of anxiety within me. Reflecting back on these questions, I begin to wonder why on earth I don’t seem to get that familiar feeling of panic, and I believe that it has a lot, in part, to do with our last Beyond Borders class. When Joanne asked us to reflect on how much we’ve changed since the beginning of September, I wracked my brain trying to figure out how I had changed. I KNOW that I changed, but for some reason, I couldn’t pin point just how it happened. When Dave spoke up, bravely admitting that he had no idea, I could not have breathed a bigger sigh of relief! I had no idea, either!! I mean, like I said, and also mirroring the responses given by my fellow BB peers, I know that something has changed, but a lot of it still seems quite confusing.

This past weekend I had a wonderful opportunity to really tease out those confusing aspects of change, mostly because I was home with my family. I’ve learned over the past eight months that my family is a true source of balance and stability in my life (no matter how crazy and frustrating they can make you feel!), so being at home definitely helps to put things into perspective. Also, having been with them so seldom in the past eight months has enabled me to gain perspective into how I have changed and in what ways. From my time spent with them, I have been able to recognize the ways I have changed in my confidence: I have found myself learning more about myself because I am actually allowing myself to be, well, me! Acting silly (i.e. dancing crazy and awkwardly, singing in funny voices), not thinking twice before making a joke – which makes jokes much funnier – and telling stories, dramatic or not, and believe in the worth of the stories I have to tell, are all examples of how I’ve noticed change within myself.

You might be wondering how on earth that remotely applies to the changes I’ve experienced from my Beyond Borders journey, and how these changes will apply as my BB journey continues. Well, because of Beyond Borders, I was able to recognize that putting myself off – that is, putting off working out the kinks in my skewed views of myself and my lack of belief in my abilities – was not something I could even consider any longer. When I was interviewed by Joanne and Elyse almost a whole year ago, I stated that I desperately wanted to help others, and that still holds complete and utter truth. But what I failed to realized was that helping other people is only effective when you know how to help yourself, first. Therefore, in order for me to get anything from this experience, I would have to first help myself.

What was different about this realization was that I actually had to put it into practice! As I told Joanne in a meeting with her, I know exactly how to play myself. I know what to tell myself to feel like I’ve accomplished something, to give myself the false feeling of productivity in order to take the stress of responsibility off of me. Instead, this time, because of my desperate need to fulfill this experience through Beyond Borders, I’ve been left with no other alternative than to carry out the changes I’ve been avoiding for so long. I’ve also begun to recognize that I believed taking part in an incredible experience such as Beyond Borders would make those changes for me. This is an extremely important admittance because it’s crucial that I have clear and reasonable expectations of this experience; so recognizing that part of what I was hoping to achieve from completing this experience was a better sense of who I am, I am able to redirect my expectations. That is not to say that expecting to come out of this a changed person is an unreasonable expectation; however the level of change and personal growth I must accomplish goes far beyond the scope of this program, not to mention the fact that it puts me at considerable risk, mentally, emotionally, psychologically, and perhaps physically.

One thing that I am considering as I write this comes to me from our last class a week ago: I believe it was Cat (or maybe it was Jacqueline?) who said that she was surprised that at how much these two semesters changed her; how much of an impact these two classes have had on her, which she wasn’t expecting. I can attest to this statement. I have been putting so much emphasis on the experience abroad that I have been ignoring the transformations that I’ve been going through over these past eight months. While it is a shame that I was not able to realize them as they were happening, perhaps this is the way it is supposed to be. And judging by Joanne’s responses to our apprehensive wonderings about how much we’ve changed, this is the way that many students experience their growth. This makes me feel a lot more confident about my progress thus far, and the progress I continue to make.

Beyond Borders means the absolute world to me. I’ve always gushed to others about the program (so much so that I believe I’ve recruited a couple for next year’s cohort), but I was always coming from a place of expected transformation. Now that I am aware of the changes that have already taken place (my increased confidence in myself and my abilities, my recognition of the time and effort I must put into myself to get to where I know I can be, and the belief in the difference I can make in other people’s lives, which has come directly from my brief yet life-changing volunteer experience), I know and accept that the transformation has already begun. I am forever grateful to this program for that. I always believed that this program came to me through some act of fate or destiny. At the time, and up until a few weeks ago, I believed it came to me because it was the opportunity I was looking for to help others in the way I’ve wanted to for countless years; now I believe that it came to me as part of my destiny, it was brought to me by fate, but because it is what ignited the drive within me to change myself for the better. I have already watched my relationships (old and new) blossom before my eyes because of the changes I’ve made, and I can only imagine and cannot wait to see what’s in store for me over the next few months leading up to my time abroad. I am on my way to being ready, and I have true and genuine confidence in myself. I’ve never felt like this before, and I am holding on to it for dear life: mine life, and the lives of the men, women, and children I am going to be serving in the fall. Regardless how emotionally trying these past eight months have been, I certainly would not change one minuscule detail, because they’ve brought me to this point, and I can see a light shinning brighter than ever at the end of this long dark tunnel.

Thank you to the Beyond Borders program, and this year’s group, and most importantly to Joanne. You’ve all given me an opportunity I’d all but given up on. You’ve made me realize that I am more than what I tell myself I am, which is something that I believed to be all in my head and never to be acted out. But I am getting there, and it is THE MOST deliriously exciting thing I’ve EVER experienced. I am SO ready.

Friday, April 2, 2010

volunteering = life changing AND not scary!!!

I cannot believe how much my life has changed in less than a week! I finally started volunteering at St. John's (a place that I had not remotely considered until I heard about all of the other BB'ers doing their volunteer hours there and how positive their experiences had been), and it has certainly been an eye-opening experience! I only spent twenty hours there, but they have been some of the most transformative twenty hours of my life.

I made the decision to volunteer Monday morning, not because I really wanted to, but because it was coming down to the wire for our volunteer hours to be submitted, and I only had a week left to do them. I suppose that's not the most ideal mindset to have going into something that is supposed to be done selflessly, but regardless of the reason, I made it there. Arriving half an hour early, I nervously waited outside the front of the building as the patrons steadily gathered around the corner at the entrance to the St. John's. As I waited and consciously tried to calm myself down, I began to imagine what it must be like for the patrons who need to rely on the kitchen for a daily meal. I was wondering outside the building just as the rest of the patrons were, and I began to imagine myself in their position. My thoughts turned to how people passing by on their way to work viewed those who relied on this service, and I wondered how they might be viewing me. Yes, I was standing there in a relatively new coat typing my thoughts into my own phone, so perhaps their first thought would not be that I was homeless/unable to afford a decent meal; but it was extremely interesting and earth shattering to be able to truly put myself in another's position. I was amazing that I hadn't even stepped foot inside the building, and already my world was changing.

Eight o'clock finally came, and I entered the building, mustering up all the confidence and courage I had. Knowing I had to look for Gretchen, I walked in with purpose. So far, things were going really well: I managed to access what I've learning in my therapy session, maintaining a positive mindset. So, once I was acquainted with Gretchen, within about 30 minutes, my decision to put off this part of the BB process could not have been more regretful. Everyone there that Monday morning was in great spirits, diligently working to get that day's meal prepared. One moment in particular that I believe will remain with me always occurred when I had pretty much just arrived. Another volunteer had asked Gretchen how her weekend was. In a disgruntled tone, Gretchen responded: "It was horrible. I can't wait for this place to kick in!" My immediate reaction to her not having had a good weekend was anxious...I tend to feel that way when others are in a bad mood. But then when I heard her proclamation that "this place" had the ability to turn a horrible weekend into something of the past and insignificant, I was extremely moved!

Just BEING in that atmosphere was like no where I'd ever been. Everyone was working together, doing whatever they could, whenever they could, wherever they could. It was the most honest representation of people working together for the greater good, and I was so excited and honored to be a part of it! I was actually sad (although, exhausted!) when it cam time to leave.

Another aspect of volunteering at such an amazing place was the social skills that seemed to come naturally to me. I felt that, in that environment, there was more acceptance, and it allowed me to be me, even if I am awkward and nervous at times. It felt OK to be that way! And feeling OK to be me made those awkward and nervous moments few and far between, or at least less dramatic. Normally, if I made a mistake or said something that I thought was stupid, I would beat myself up it order to feel better (weird, I know). But for whatever reason, be it the atmosphere, the people, some extremely level of positive energy, or a combination of all, my mistakes and "stupid" comments rolled right off my back. A perfect example of this was on Wednesday when Gretchen asked me to start filling twelve baking pans with sliced potatoes (we were preparing scalloped potatoes for Easter lunch), so I started placing them in the pans one by one. When Gretchen saw my pain-staking method, she grabbed the bucket of potatoes from commenting that I would be there all day, and began pouring the potatoes in the pans. Okay, that is definitely faster. I really would have been there all day!! That is certainly something I would not let myself live down on any other day, but for some reason, I was able to laugh it off. I was laughing at myself, and it felt great!! Not even five minutes later, I made another mistake, and again, I was able to laugh it off. The fact that I cannot even remember what it was that I messed up on is telling in itself. I don't forget any mistake I make, and two days later, I have no idea what it was. This is an incredible feeling!!

Honestly, I just cannot believe what a life-changing experience St. John's offered me, and I am so proud of myself for taking it! I realize what I would have been missing out on had I opted to not fulfill the volunteering experience (nevermind the fact that I wouldn't be able to go on my international experience). I've been on a high for five solid days, and its a wonderful feeling. And one of the most incredible pieces to all of this is how I was able to interact with the patrons. I think that was one of the most nerve-wracking thing for me because I didn't know how I would be able to identify with them. But it just seemed to come naturally. When I was serving the cookies on the lunch line, I seemed to forget, or at least not care who these people were or where they came from. The fact of the matter was that they are just people. Some of them have mental disabilities, some physical, some have substance addictions, and some have just had some pretty shitty luck; but none of it matters. Those are just details. They are real people, they were really right there in front of me, waiting for cookies. And that was all. I learned so much from them, and the extent of our conversations didn't go beyond "Hi, how are you?"

I cannot wait to go back there. I can understand completely, despite the fact that her hours had been completely two weeks into the term, why Cat did not, could not stop going to this amazing, transforming place. It is somewhere that differences don't matter. Just humanity. It's a place to remind us of what it means to be human. To refer back to "Becoming Human," I definitely became human in twenty hours. I will never be the same, and that is the most exciting thing.