As some of you know, I was not originally planning to do volunteer service in the U.S. For the longest time I did not even consider it to be an option. I was going to go abroad. For one, I felt the need to make up for not going abroad while in college. Also, I felt as though I needed a radical change in my life to help me challenge and form my adult identity. As my senior year was ending, I had no idea what I wanted to do next, but I strongly felt that I needed to do some soul searching before hopping onto a career path. For most of my time at college I was very comfortable with myself and my environment. My world view was rarely challenged. As much as my liberal arts education was about examining and learning about every aspect of everything, I did surprisingly little self examination. Frankly I was too busy. I was too comfortable.
This is where BVS enters the picture. I’ve known about BVS for as long as I can remember; my father’s parents met as volunteers in Germany. Through my many church families I’ve heard the stories of people’s life changing experiences serving in other countries through BVS. All of these wonderful stories I heard, all of them happened abroad. To me, that’s what BVS was about. Serving. In another country. And that was exactly the experience I needed. So, I decided to go to Belfast. I would work at the Forthspring Inter-Community Group, trying to find a way to bring Catholic and Protestant youngsters together. This was the plan until I got a call in the middle of orientation. Now wasn’t a good time for them take another volunteer, they decided. A year from now, maybe, but not now.
So here I am in D.C., and man is it awesome. I could have tried to go abroad somewhere else, but my swift decision-making mind didn’t want to substitute the abroad experience I had been planning for months for a different experience that may not have been as good of fit for me. Instead I chose D.C. with an eye toward future Belfast possibilities. They did say chances would be better in a year…
Man, D.C. is awesome. But here’s why it’s awesome. It’s awesome because in a lot of ways it is very comfortable. I’m living in a house with 11 other volunteers, 2 whom I’ve known since orientation and 1 whom I have known since we were 7. I’m working in the healthy eating department of the food bank, so my co-workers have a similar diet as me and we can trade awesome recipes. Everyone in my department has a college degree or more, and my workplace is about as academic a setting as you can get outside of academia. It’s comfortable because I’m surrounded by wonderful people who think like me. And as much as I hate to admit it, the fact that everyone in my department is female makes me more comfortable than I would be otherwise.
I have already learned so much being here. I know my experience in D.C. will change my life. But what I am learning from my social justice minded co-workers at the food bank and from our partner organizations is very different than what I would be learning from young Belfasters who have been raised on one side of a city divided by hate. The way my hyperactive, bustling D.C. experience changes my life will be very different from the way a confusing, uncomfortable, slow, harsh, and beautiful Northern Ireland experience would change my life.
The point is, I’m comfortable but I feel slightly uncomfortable about it. I think I just need to accept that my reason for being here is not the same reason why I joined BVS, but I’m still here for a reason. It think it’s worth it to notice how my experiences are different than they would have been, but only to keep myself in check; to remind myself that I have more growing to do, and to hopefully keep that itch for future adventures. So here’s to being comfortable with comfort.