Category Archives: Wouldn’t It Be Awesome

Wouldn’t It Be Awesome If … You Volunteered For a Year?

Name: Katie Gavle
Age: 26
Occupation: Spanish Teacher
Current city: Madison, Wisconsin

Why did you decide to volunteer?
Graduating with a degree in Spanish Education, I knew that I wanted to spend some time in a Spanish speaking country before starting my teaching career. Ultimately, I found a great way to spend a year immersed in Spanish language and Mexican culture by volunteering with YAGM (Young Adults in Global Mission). It is designed to place young adults, between 19 and 30 years old, in different volunteer sites around the world.

How did you find out about the program?
Gotta love my mom and snail mail! During my last year at UW, she stumbled on an article about YAGM and sent me the clipping. After looking at the program online, I sent in the application and the ball started rolling quickly after that. Before I knew it, I did a phone interview with program alumni. Then I was invited to the “DIP” weekend event (Discernment, Interviews, and Placement) in which all of the potential volunteers learn about their top country sites and the work done there; meet the country coordinators and other potential volunteers; and are finally selected for one of the country sites. The process went quickly and was very assuring – it was clear from the beginning that a lot of care and deep consideration was taken to make sure that volunteers are well matched to their placement and are capable of meeting the needs of their host communities.

Where did you live?
I served in Cuernavaca, Mexico, as a preschool teacher at two different work sites, both in extremely marginalized communities. I lived with a host mother, whose children were old enough to be married and have their own  families (although they visited often). My host mom was the highlight of my experience. She is a strong willed woman who has led an incredibly challenging life, always emerging with grace and hope for what lies ahead. She is passionate about her faith and caring for her family and community. I learned so much from her during that time and we still maintain a great relationship thanks to her grandkid’s technology and emails and Skype!

What was a typical day like?
My morning work site was at La Estación, a small school for preschool aged kids in the poorest community in Cuernavaca. I taught basic skills bilingually: colors, shapes, numbers, and the alphabet in English and Spanish. Lots and lots of silly songs we used and I can still smile when I remember the voices of the kids singing along to our color song. I went home for lunch with my host mom and we often shared a long conversation over delicious home-cooked food. Then I would head out to my afternoon work site at Casa Tatic. Again, I was working with extremely marginalized children from the surrounding neighborhoods and the children of the people who work in the markets. We provided lunch and basic educational support (for my preschool group, we did a lot of games and art projects). Then I would spend the evening back at home with my host mom. Often, her daughters would visit with their families and the house would buzz with all the people.

What did you love most?
I LOVE the people of Mexico. It is a warm and generous culture and I
walked away from the experience deeply touched by the hospitality of my
host family and the kindness of the people who I met and worked with.

What did you love least?
I had the most difficult time adjusting to my work sites. No fault of the sites, it was my own struggle with reconciling the difference between what my work site communities needed and what I expected them to need. I had to “hit a wall” time and time again before I started to realize that my concept of “education” was not going to fit the communities where I worked. It was a painful process, but I ultimately learned a valuable lesson that has made me a better teacher.

Any tips for someone who would like to do a program like this?
Do your homework and some soul searching. Spending a good chunk of time outside of the United States is an incredible thing that has opened my eyes to realities far bigger than what I could experience on a vacation or read in a book. It taught me about ways in which we are all human and how to celebrate finding myself among brothers and sisters that are so different than me on the surface. It also taught me about my own strength and independence and how to trust myself and my convictions. It was a life-changing opportunity and one of the best things I have ever done for myself. However, culture shock can be a beast of a thing and it takes serious commitment and desire to stick out the tough times. There were times when I considered quitting, but I’m so glad I didn’t. If I had quit, I would remember it as an awful experience and never had the chance to really find the happiness that came by the end. If you are considering pursuing an experience abroad, make sure you find one that fits your personality and make sure that you have the gumption to truly immerse yourself in your host culture. If you can, you will walk away from an invaluable experience that will change your life too.

Anything else you’d like to add?
YES! If this information at all perked your interest in international volunteer work, please check out more information about the YAGM program. I was really happy with the way the program is run and it is incredibly supportive of the volunteers.

Thank you for sharing, Katie! Another thing I’d like to point out about Katie is that she blogged while she studied abroad in Italy during college and while she lived in Mexico for a year. It was a really great way to keep tabs on her and learn about all of the amazing things she was doing while they were happening. I loved it!

You know you’ve done something awesome. Yes, you! So e-mail me a quick note and then I’ll e-nterview you. Just a few questions over e-mail and then you’ll be featured on my blog. Ta-da!

Wouldn’t It Be Awesome If … You Joined the Air Force?

Today’s Wouldn’t It Be Awesome If Wednesday is written by me as told by Ariel over the long graduation weekend. 

They may be known by other branches of the military as the “Chair Force,” but these Airmen had to go through their own physically- and mentally-demanding basic training just like every other branch of the U.S. Military to learn teamwork, precision, and discipline. Read on:

Name: Ariel
Age: 20
Current City: Monterey, California
Current Job: student at Defense Language Institute for Cryptologic Linguist – Arabic

Why did you join the Air Force?
To be a part of something.

What does joining the Air Force mean?
Before joining the Air Force, you have to undergo physical and academic tests. Most people don’t even pass the basic physical tests. Do you have asthma? You’re out. Do you pee out too much iron? You’re gone. Too skinny? Too fat? Too short? Gone. Gone. Gone. Once you’re through, it means 8 weeks of Basic Military Training (BMT) at the Lackland Air Force base outside of San Antonio, Texas. By the end of training, you will be assigned a job and be sent to a new base somewhere around the country for tech school.

What was a regular day at Basic Training like?
We were literally busy from 4 AM to 9 PM. It went something like this: Wake up at 4 AM. Make bed. Go running outside for 30 minutes or do an hour physical training (PT). Back to dorm for “details” — chores that we are assigned. We basically clean the dorm from top to bottom. March to breakfast. About 2 minutes to eat. Go to classes (Air Force history, military rankings, etc.). Lunch. Drills outside all afternoon. Dinner. More “details” inside even though we were gone all day. Might include cleaning classrooms, etc. Lights out at 9 PM. There wasn’t always time to shower. On Fridays we worked the food hall from about 2 AM to 9 PM. I was also assigned a guard shift each week which could be from 12 AM to 2 AM. Then back up at 4 AM. Oh, and how can I forget: there’s no cell phones, computers, or TVs the entire time. The only contact we had with our families were through letters (if we had time to even read them) and maybe a call once a week on Sunday.

People do get kicked out. For example, if you lie that you don’t have asthma, but you do, they’ll find out. Don’t lie about an injury that you don’t have because you’re too tired to march. The quickest way to get out of BMT is to complete the 8 weeks and graduate. If you are injured or lie, you’ll be kept on base for months — until you’re healed, until you get a meeting time, until you get a doctor’s appointment, etc. We got out of there before the people who were trying to con their way out.

What was the hardest week of training?
Beast Week. We were living in the middle of nowhere and had to construct our tents and eat food out of packets in the intense heat. Really scary tornado-like sandstorm came through and blew our whole campsite apart.

Did you have any freedom?
We could go to the mall on base like twice a month and deduct money from our bank accounts. I went to the salon in the mall twice. I came to BMT with blonde hair, then had it dyed red, then dyed it brunette. The Training Instructors (TIs) made fun of me, but they liked my brunette the most.

What did you wear?
We have our “blues.” That is the navy blue hat, navy blue pants or skirt, light blue short-sleeve button-up shirt, and shoes (along with a jacket and blazer). We also had a shirt and shorts for Physical Training. We also wore camouflage tops, pants, and hat with boots for marching. (Yes, there are camos out there with an “ANDRUS” patch!)

What was the base like?
There are 2 mini malls and one big mall (called BX for Base Exchange and Mini BX) with chain restaurants like Starbucks and Baskin Robbins, along with Claire’s, Game Stop, and a department store that has clothes, Coach purses, Macs, TVs, furniture, and anything else you need. There’s a Burger King, Starbucks, bank, tennis courts, pools, work-out facilities, BBQ restaurant, adventure recreation center, dorms, duplexes, parade field, horse stables, lawn and garden center, grocery store, church, elementary school, middle school, high school, bowling alley, movie theater, and gas stations. Most of the stuff I listed is for the Airmen and other military members who are attending tech school on base, those who are working on base, and those who live on base with their families. We only occasionally enjoyed the mall. No tennis or bowling for us! But basically, you never need to leave base for anything.

What are some of the rules?

We had a brother squadron but we weren’t allowed to talk or even look at them even though we ate with them, marched with them, did physical training with them, attended class with them, and lived down the hall from them for 8 weeks. The only time we were finally allowed to speak with them was Beast Week.

We couldn’t wear makeup. Our hair has to be very short or in a low tight bun. The guys have to get buzz cuts. Lights out at 9 PM. No falling asleep in church. Everyone gets called by their last names so everyone knew me as “Andrus.” I didn’t even learn most girls’ first names. We have to follow the rule “No Airman gets left behind” and we have “wingmen” to help each other. If we are coming home after dark, we must have our flashlights with us, and we can’t march back alone. We must be with at least one other Airman.

When we are wearing our Air Force uniform (“blues”), we can’t walk while talking on a cell phone or drinking out of a water bottle. We can’t wear sunglasses. We have to take off our hats when we’re indoors. Our belt has to be polished. The edge of our belt has to line up with the button part of our shirt which lines up with the fly of our pants. Our shoes have to be shined. Nylons have to be worn with the skirt. You have to wear a white bra. No holding hands with a boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife while in uniform. We have to carry around this coin (pictured) in our pocket at all times.

Did you get in trouble for anything?
I got yelled at by my TI for smiling too much. Also, when we first got to BMT, we had to empty our suitcases in front of everyone and the TIs yelled at me for bringing a bathing suit. (It was packed in my suitcase because I went swimming in the hotel in Minnesota the night before we flew to Texas.) “Do you think you’ll have time to go swimming?” and “Do you think this is summer camp?!” was what they said. Then they also yelled at me for bringing an entire photo album with like 700 photos.

What’s the most random thing you learned how to do?
I can take an M-16 apart and put it back together in under 2 minutes with my eyes closed. (However, there was only one day of training where we actually had to shoot the gun. If we ever had to carry a gun around, it was a basically a fake gun.)

What are you doing now?
On Monday, I moved to a base at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California which is insanely beautiful by the way. I’m not completely sure what this will be like, but I know that the Air Force will be nothing like BMT (which is good!). In a couple weeks, I’ll start classes which will last about a year and a half. It’s kind of like private school. I’ll have to wear a uniform, go to physical training 3 days per week, and stay on base for the first two months. After that, I’ll be able to leave the base for vacations and holidays. Soon after that, I can start wearing civilian clothing again. 🙂

Congratulations, Airman Andrus! I am so proud of you!