What are your first impressions? You can reflect on your first impressions of your service site, the neighborhood, the community… the place where you are. Also, you might want to reflect on: How does this differ from any expectations you had going in?  

Andrea – San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

 Week one in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico has proven to be exciting, trying, and very rewarding. The excitement was immediate as we arrived just in time for the celebration of El Día de los Tres Réyes- one of the largest holidays in the Mexican culture. Each of us were placed into our various classrooms, myself having a class of children between 1 and 2 yeas old. These children certainly tried our patience a bit, as we each attempted to fall into the daily schedule at Casa de los Angeles. Many of the children have been at Casa since they were one month old, and when you are faced with a four year old who knows how to work the system better than you do, you can run int a few problems. However, by the end of the week I felt enamored with the children of my class, as did the other volunteers. For me, the most rewarding part of our first week here was the greeting that I received when I walked into the classroom Friday morning. The babies not only recognized me, but were clearly happy to see me, and clamored for me to play with them. I also very much appreciated the relationship that I have formed with the head teacher of the classroom, and the trust that she placed in me with her students.
We have also been lucky enough to experience a lot of the city as well. In this first week alone, I have been able to go on a tour of San Miguel with our volunteer coordinator, I have dined on delicious street tacos as well as in beautiful roof-top restaurants, I visited the natural hot springs in the early morning, and we all went on a 2.5 hour horseback ride through La Cañada de la Vírgen. My expectations for this small city have been blown away, and I cannot wait to see what the remaining 19 days bring.

JT – Yangon, Myanmar

 Upon leaving the airport in Yangon (our flights were excitement-free in a good way), my first impression was, “Wow these taxis are fast – are there traffic laws?!? – oh my gosh we’re gonna hit someone! – please let us get there already!!!”
The brother’s residence is much nicer than I expected it would be. The food has all been excellent so far, so pushing myself to try new dishes has been easy. Luckily for me, my work at the LaSalle Center has mostly been easy as well. I thought the students were going to be very shy, but they opened up to our group very quickly. They are clearly taking their English education seriously, which makes it such a pleasure to help them. I helped to correct essays the other day, and the students asked me clever questions about my corrections that showed they were really engaged.
Yangon is clearly a city that is trying to play catch-up with the Western world. The traffic is terrible, there are advertisements all over the place, and there’s a lot of city dirt. Juxtaposed against all the shiny new things are clear signs of poverty. In these ways, it’s a lot like we never left San Francisco, but the poverty is on another level here. On a drive to the nearby city of Bago (about an hour and a half away), I saw huts made out of discarded advertisements situated in what was practically a swamp.
Due to the city atmosphere and the driving habits of our taxi drivers, I expected many people to be in the “Me first, do things quickly” mindset of Western society, but I am happy to say that that part of Western culture hasn’t appeared here. The people are all very kind.
Despite occasional problems with the water not being on, I have been surprisingly comfortable here. None of us have gotten sick, the weather has been nice, and the accommodations have been workable at worst. I hope our luck continues!

Feroez – Oakland, CA

Going local for LSI I had a lot of interesting ideas in my head of what the experience would bring for me. I see all of my other friends who are doing the domestic or out of country LSI’s having these cool experiences and I just wanted the same for myself here.  My expectation of St. Martin De Porres was that the school that would be very large and be crammed with many kids. Kids from lower income backgrounds who where in situations which deemed them “bad” children. Also being from the bay area I understood that Oakland even though seen by many as an unsafe place, was actually pretty safe in many areas. So I assumed that the school even though in Oakland would still be in a community that would be safe enough for the kids to learn and grow. Once we got to the school what first struck me was the fence surrounding the property. This fence immediately made me realize that we may not be in the safest of all communities here in Oakland. Nevertheless we (Bella and I) both went in not knowing what to expect. Once we got inside and walked around the school we realized how small it really was. St. Martin De Porres has one gym, a cafeteria and one hallway where all of the classrooms are located. It is very small and can at some times feel so cramped when all of the students, faculty and staff are walking around. Another thing that struck me as different from what I was expecting was the children themselves. Not only are they warm, loving, funny and accepting but they are also very smart, polite, well-mannered and overall just great kids to be around. After finishing my first day coming in with all of these doubts and expectations, I found myself at a loss of words for how great my first day really was and from that point on I realized that this was the place for me, that I had made the right decision to come here and that my LSI experience will be one I will always remember

Anne – Iasi, Romania

The remnants of Communism seem to make-up the personality of the outskirts of the city; large factories, some still in use, some abandoned, and some transformed into shopping malls, line either side of the streets. This is a stark contrast to the center of the city and downtown area, which is home the city’s history and culture in the forms of extravagant opera houses and enormous Eastern Orthodox as well as Catholic cathedrals. Considering these two poles of infrastructure found in Iasi, the La Salle Boys’ Home seems to be one of the nicer buildings in the area, both inside and out, located just outside of the center of the city. I am pleasantly surprised by all of the amenities that are available to us in the home such as wifi and personal showers and bathrooms, etc., all of which were things that I was not expecting to have access to. As far as our service here…we did not have much information to go off of as to what type of service we would be performing for the Brothers before arriving in Romania a week ago. As the week has progressed, I have come to realize that the majority of our service consists of spending as much time as possible with the boys. The boys come from many different backgrounds and family situations but all seem to need one thing: love/attention. Us spending time with them and engaging in their lives seems to somewhat make up for the lack of affection and attention that they have received for the majority of their lives before coming to the home. The strict schedule and list of tasks given to them by the Brothers each day not only teaches them discipline and hard work, but also shows them that someone cares enough about them to make sure that they are using their time wisely to better their situations and provide them with support. It is amazing the amount of motivation that can be generated from love.  On a personal level, I was excited to see in what ways I would grow as a person through faith, community, and service as I was preparing to leave for Romania. The immense amount of religiosity here in Romania has made me think about the role that religion plays in my own life and if I am happy with this role or not. Religion seems to provide many of the boys here with an identity and sense of belonging, which they have struggled to find elsewhere given their socioeconomic status and family situations. Is this the role that religion serves for me? How does religion in Romania compare to religion in the United States? What are the causes of these differences? These are just some of the questions that have come up for me during this first week and I look forward to answering them throughout the remainder of my time here.

Franchesca – Browning, Montana

Going into Browning, Montana, I did not have much to go on. All I knew was that it would be colder and a completely different culture. Completely different culture was correct. Setting foot on the reservation felt like setting foot in another country. It is still hard to describe the feeling I have here. It was definitely an overwhelming first week. We learned so much about these children’s daily lives, especially outside of school. There are a lot of obstacles and temptations here in the Browning community that may cause the children to grow up faster and skip their childhood all together. There is a strong presence of drugs and alcohol in the community. It debilitates the community severely, leaving the town and surrounding area with the feeling of emptiness. The history of the Blackfeet Nation has been difficult, similar to any culture. There were different defining moments that brought the community to where it is today. As days go by here, the culture begins to leave me at a loss for words. I have  heard about the danger, the struggle to travel, and the difficulties of daily life. I am left speechless at every story told to me. The children at the De La Salle Blackfeet School are not exception to these difficulties. Some come to school for the escape, others to really learn, and a handful to find who they are outside of the community. There may be strong roadblocks and difficulties with the community, its residents, and daily life; but there is a stronger sense of resilience in these children. They come to school, take out their textbooks, fall in line, play basketball, tell each other stories, get excited for snacks time. They smile, they laugh, they are energized. They continue to come to school. The children find reasons to be happy. They do not wait for the happy moments. The children make them.

Jane – Pawtucket, Rhode Island

Where am I? Well, I have to say that things are definitely not going as expected. We’ve officially finished up with our first week of service and I have already learned so much. I went into this entire thing telling myself that I didn’t have any expectations, only to realize that I did, and they were immediately let down. I’m volunteering at an organization called Tides Family Services, a social service that offers aid to families with troubled children and family lives. Tides is a wonderful organization with so many different aspects and pieces that come together to make it what it is, but one thing that I’ve learned quickly is that social work is not a job that you can just walk into and expect to make a change. So far I haven’t been able to do very much because with an organization like Tides, much of the work depends on experience and relationships. We work with families who grow very close and comfortable with their case workers, they depend on that familiarity and trust with these people that they see 6 times a week, and to them I am an outsider.  Since I only have a month here, I don’t think that I will be making any deep connections or really making much of a change at all, so I’d say that that aspect is the most disheartening part of the trip so far. I think that I will potentially learn from this experience, but to be honest, that is not what I signed up for. I wanted to serve others, not just watch someone else do it. I can honestly say that I did almost nothing this week and I am a little upset, but I am trying to remain optimistic and open minded as it is only the beginning of the second week. I cannot put into words the overwhelming gratitude that I have for the community that I am living in. Without them, I’m 100% sure that I would not be staying here for the entire month. BMR and the other LV’s in the house are truly the light of this entire experience. They have all made the house feel like home for the other girls and me. Every night we have dinner together and gather for nightly prayer, and no matter how I felt during the day I always walk away from these gathering with a smile on my face. There is not all that much to do in the neighborhood, but we are very close to a train station to Boston, and all of the LV’s are so friendly and are constantly offering to take us places and spend time with them, which is awesome.
 Altogether, I’d say that the work side of the experience is falling short of literally every expectation I had, but the home life is excelling past them.

Anna – Yangon, Myanmar

The people are helpful.  At the airport, even though it was almost midnight, we found a taxi booth where there was an English speaker who helped us get three taxis to bring us to the Brothers house.  The buildings at the Brothers compound are older than I expected. There is this paradox of these really beautiful, large residences with gates, guards and double barbed-wire topped fences next to dilapidated houses.  There is a lot of trash everywhere, especially plastic water bottles and styrofoam containers mingling with many stray cats and dogs.  The trash clogs the open-drainage system and this obviously helps to keep the mosquito population high. There are a lot of vehicles on the road so there are  regular traffic jams.  More vehicles than I had expected and some very large SUVs.  I am surprised that there are not many accidents.  The drivers are skilled at navigating through it all.  They honk a lot to communicate that they are stopping, turning or just in the vicinity.  We were told that the number of vehicles on the rad tripled in the last 4 years. The school is lacking basic business text books.  The most current account text was published in 1998 and uses WorldCom as an example.  I wish we had known that we could have brought a suitcase of business textbooks.  It is a challenge to teach especially since we were given no syllabus, no lesson plans and no textbook.  But I (we are) making the best of the circumstances and doing all that I can to get them to understand basic accounting in the computerized world.  The students are eager to learn and work very well collaboratively.  They use google a lot on their cell phones to try to understand english and other concepts and are those who understand are willing to explain to those who don’t. This is the best for now. I teach in the afternoons s I am here at the Brothers house this morning so that I can access the internet and try to get some of my GLD35 -MA stuff done. We are all doing well.  No one got sick and we are having a great experience.  We came well prepared to face challenges and the unexpected and are adapting well and being flexible.  Jaime, of course, is the life of the group keeping us in stitches

 

Courtney – Oakland, CA

 St. Mary’s Center Preschool resides in Northwest Oakland and is not in the best of neighborhoods. The buildings are old and run-down, there is an encampment in the park across the street, and there are prostitutes wandering about. But inside the doors of the preschool is a loving and nurturing environment where the children are encouraged to learn through song, instruction, and play. There are three teachers, and a myriad of helpers who come in and out those doors. The preschool mainly relies on donations and volunteers to give the children all the necessary resources for success, which is one of the main things that surprised me. For example, the children have had vision tests, which are provided by volunteers who are retired vision specialists. The food provided when the kids first arrive, given at snack time, or sent home with the children are absolutely essential to their wellbeing. I was disappointed and saddened to learn that for some of the children that attend St Mary’s Center Preschool, the food given during class is some of the only food they get that day. The staff also had rallied together and bought the vast majority of the children warm coats for the winter and Christmas gifts because their families are not always able to afford these things. I originally thought that I would be volunteering at the preschool to help the children, and I do, but mostly my daily tasks revolve around making the teachers’ lives a bit easier by doing things like cleaning, supervising play time and hand-washing, setting up arts and crafts stations, etc. The usual routine entails the children playing outside on the play structure in the back of the facility, then coming inside for circle time. During circle time, the kids learn the month, days of the week, seasons, and the year, and they sing and/or dance along to educational songs provided by a CD. After their circle time is play time or crafts time, and then it is snack time. After snack, they play outside until a parent or guardian comes and picks them up. Volunteering here has been a wonderful experience so far. I think that the most important thing I have gained from this service experience so far is deepening a universal love for others, the kind that Mother Theresa talked about, and always looking for the good and God in everyone.

Seth – Naples, Italy

My first impressions have been varied but overall very good. The city of Naples is quite beautiful, we have explored it a little so far and it has been helpful that they have a metro similar to Bart. Everything in Naples is super cheap, we each got a pizza which was a regular size 12 inch pizza (we did not know they would be that big) and it was only 6.50 euro each. Also they have a lot of gluten free options so I was obviously quite excited. The neighborhood we live in, Scampia, is a bit more run down than the rest of Naples but still very wonderful. We learned that there is a lot of judgement toward people who are from Scampia which makes it hard for locals to leave the area.
  I personally have mixed feelings about our service work at the moment. It has been great hanging out with the kids and the toddlers but has been increasingly difficult to not have a way to communicate with them throughout the day. We have helped with teaching the teens English words and Brother Enrico has translated some of their questions. There is not not usually much for me to help with during their regular classes since I cannot understand them. I will be a foosball champion by the time I get home because at the afterschool program I spend about 3 hours a day playing foosball with the boys. I feel bad that I cannot communicate with them when we are playing and when they have questions about where I am from.
  We have been gratiously overstuffed with food at every meal. There are multiple courses to every meal and it always ends with nuts and fruit. One of the harder things to adapt to around food is that dinner starts at 9pm most nights, sometimes later. We do not finish dinner until at least 11pm. For prayer at night Brother Enrico creates a page of bible passages, poems or quotes from a book on De La Salle and we alternate reading in English and Italian. Yesterday at lunch the the conversation was being translated through 4 languages among our group, the brothers and a teacher from CasArcobaleno since we do not speak Italian and they do not speak English.

Nataly – Bacolod City, Philippines

When I stepped out of the plane, I felt the hot, humid air of Bacolod City, Philippines. Despite the heat, my first impression was that the country is beautiful with large fields of sugar cane and grass. I did not have many expectations going into the Philippines besides the humidity. When we met the residents of Bahay Pag-Asa we were given shell necklaces and the boys introduced themselves. I knew we were working with children in conflict with the law, but I did not know what to expect or what Brother Dan, our supervisor, expected of me.

The first day mostly consisted of introductions and trying to remember the names of all 23 boys at Bahay Pag-Asa. To my surprise, icebreakers were not necessary.  Everyone was so kind, conversations were easy, and pick-up games of basketball had started.

From the first day until now, we try to make Angelus Morning Prayer, which begins at 5:30 a.m. and is optional for volunteers. It means a lot to the boys to show that we are a part of their schedule and community. I did not know that the boys would care so much about our participation in small prayers or scheduled activities I did not expect to become so close to the boys in such a short amount of time. We have had our moments of heart-to-heart conversations and have started a sibling-like bond. From some of the conversations I have had with the boys, I have realized that, as humans, we all crave love and attention. People need to know that someone believes in them and cares for them. When that’s gone, they seek attention and love from things that could be unhealthy for them.

When talking to Brother Dan about this, he said, “Abandonment is an open wound” I agree with him. When we feel abandoned it causes us to become cynical, less trusting, and angry, which manifest themselves in various ways. During my stay, I hope I could show these boys that they are loved and cared for and that they all have the potential to do great things. They are not their past mistakes.

Roshni – Nyeri, Kenya

After 22 hours on a plane, too many hours in a van, and two days in Nairobi, we have finally made it Nyeri. The community as a whole in Kenya is a lot more hospitable and welcoming than what we experience in our layover in Dubai. Where we are in Nyeri is also a lot nicer than we were told to expect but that might just be because we were told to set our bar very low.

We arrived at St. Mary’s boy’s school in the evening and so driving through the school in the dark was a much different experience than touring the compound on foot the next morning. We started our tour-filled day with breakfast in the guest house where we will be staying and having our meals for the rest of the month. After we finished eating, we were able to sit and talk and relax which is a much different experience than I am used to at home. It feels as though we might actually be able to slow down and enjoy our experience here. After breakfast, we started our tour of the compound and got to see where the primary students live. These are the junior boys that we’ll be spending most of our mornings with starting with morning wake up at 5am. Next to the juniors’ hall, there is an area where the pigs are kept. We learned that the boys are actually in charge of raising the pigs and eventually slaughtering them which teaches them livestock skills.

We toured the rest of the campus which includes a computer lab, library, science lab, secondary school, nursery school, dormitories, and polytechnic program. I’m really excited to see the work that we will be doing because there is a lot that actually happens on the campus which means more of a variety for us. We went back to the juniors’ hall around lunch time to meet some of the boys and see where they each lunch. It was interesting and a bit odd to see the structure among the chaos and to realize that this is the routine that happens every day.

After lunch, we went on a driving tour of Nyeri. The town itself has some similarities and a lot of differences to what I’m used to in the suburbs of California. For starters, the roads are very different. Majority of the roads we were driving on were unpaved and there were a lot more speedbumps than we are used to in the states. The environment here is beautiful and as there is a lot more nature here and more colors than back home.

I am excited to see what work will be in store for us at the school. The age range is wide and I am starting to see the structure of the school and its programs. It seems different than back home because we don’t usually keep nursery, primary, and secondary levels all contained in one space but it will be interesting to see the dynamic and similarities in interactions and structure.