These five months of living as a Young Adult Volunteer have initiated incredible learning and growing, for sure; however, they haven’t come without necessary growing pains.
I am an individual of great privilege. I am who I am today because of the opportunities, supportive communities, life-long mentors and friends, and love that I have been given. I can never adequately show my gratitude for the strength, love, and confidence you all have instilled in me. Yet, I also can’t ignore that not everyone is born into such a place of love, support, and privilege.
This is not to say that I am not privileged in my current living situation either. I have a fulfilling job with supportive co-workers and wonderful students. I live in a beautiful house surrounded by strong, courageous, and engaged sister volunteers. And although we live on a budget smaller than that I have lived on before, we eat, experience life, and live very well and comfortably.
So why the growing pains? To be honest, it’s the little things that I knew I was signing up for – the things that I intentionally chose the YAV program in order to experience – that have frustrated me the most and made me most aware of my privilege and of my dependence.
Over the past three summers, I have written my own curriculum and taught in my own classroom. During student teaching, I had full independence and control to teach what I wanted to and how I wanted to. Here in Albuquerque, I am working as a part-time volunteer teaching assistant. It has been hard for this perfectionist, used-to-having-control, engaged first-year teacher (that would be me) to go from teaching in my own classroom to assisting in seven different classrooms. Sometimes I feel like I am not doing enough. Sometimes I feel like things are not going how I would like them to. Sometimes I want to do more.
And yet, being a teaching assistant has given me the opportunity to grow in ways that I wouldn’t if I were teaching in my own classroom. Not having to focus on lesson planning, copying papers, and always being the one to give instruction has allowed me to solely focus my energy on the students’ academic and personal needs. I am learning so much about individual student interests, struggles, and learning needs. I have more time to sit and listen to students who need someone to talk to. I have more time to go to sporting events and support students outside of school. I can work more closely with students who need one-on-one attention. I get frustrated and discouraged sometimes; however, more often than not, I am encouraged and motivated and impressed and inspired by my time with the students here. Taking a step back has been an incredibly humbling learning and growing experience.
The other main source of growing pains has been not having a car. Since I was able to drive, I have never been without a family car or a personal car to drive. I am fortunate enough to have a bike to ride and the Albuquerque bus system is very affordable, but yet I still get frustrated way too frequently and easily and I often feel stuck. I had never used the public bus system before studying abroad in Costa Rica and I can still count on my two hands the number of times when I have used public transportation in the United States. Growing up, driving a car felt extremely normal and something that was a given. I am reminded frequently here that a car is a huge privilege. And the fact that I have never been without a car until now is an even bigger privilege.
Being without a car makes me very dependent on the other YAVs here in New Mexico that do have cars. Although I can bike and ride the bus to a lot of places, there are just as many places that the public transit system does not travel to. And being used to lending out my car and being the designated chauffer for my friends in high school and college, it has been frustrating to have the situation flipped around here. I feel like a burden to other people if I want to do anything off campus. I feel dependent and needy.
And yet, in the frustration, I recognize that feeling dependent reminds me of my shared humanity – reminds me of how dependent I really am on my friends, family, and parents. Even when at times I feel independent and strive for more independence, I can never and should never forget that I am interdependent on so many people. Even if it takes something as trivial as not having a car to drive, I am glad (although often reluctantly) for the reminder that I cannot – truly cannot – do everything on my own. I depend on other people and other people depend on me, and that is a necessary and good and solidaria thing.
Coming from a place of privilege, it is hard to look that privilege in the face and put my reflections into practical action. It’s not an easy nor a quick process. Sometimes, I feel so guilty that I want to stop trying. Sometimes I feel like I am never going to kick the privileged way in which I think or act, so I wonder if it’s even worth trying. And sometimes, I savor and appreciate and feel so blessed to be learning from the times of discomfort and clarity.
There are many moments when I recognize how dependent I am; and in these moments, I become frustrated. But these moments also help me recognize how dependent I am on God. Living in conscious dependence of other people and of God doesn’t mesh well with the independent way that I am told I need to live as a young adult. Ultimately, it is in this conscious dependence of my neighbors and of God that I recognize how blessed, lucky, and privileged I am to be doing exactly what I am doing right now.
These are little, seemingly non-consequential, non-important things that have been my biggest struggles so far. And yet, I think sometimes, when I don’t take time to recognize, make peace with, and reconcile these little things, I miss the bigger things that God is trying to show me.
The growing pains that I am experiencing through recognizing and examining my privilege are painful by nature. With hesitancy and excitement, I welcome these pains and offer myself and others grace in the process, realizing the growth that they bring.
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