Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Discerning a Year with Amate

The following post is written by Catherine Scallen, Program and Recruitment Coordinator with Amate House.

One of the most challenging aspects of recruiting is the simple fact that it is extremely difficult to capture the rambling and complex expanse of a service year in a thirty second elevator pitch. In fact, dare I say, it’s downright impossible. How do you even begin to scratch the surface of what a year with Amate House means? How do you communicate the mechanics of the stipend, the benefits, the transit, the site placements—while simultaneously trying to express that the sum of the year is far greater than its logistical parts?

How do you convey that it is a year for professional and personal development far beyond anything that a standard 9-5 can offer? That you, as a fresh college graduate, are, quite frankly, handed more responsibility than you should be—and that this baptism by fire is, albeit terrifying, a surefire way to discover your immense capacity for creativity that you previously may not have known existed.

How do you explain that the three houses are not just strange converted convent dorm-like living, but rather individual and unique homes in the truest sense of the word? Places where you are pushed and pulled beyond your comfort zone—through bouts of tear-soaked laughter over games of Settlers of Catan, huddling around the one functioning Ethernet cord, hiding a creepy stuffed animal in kitchen cupboards. Places where you cry at the creaky old dinner table in frustration, in confusion at the deep-seated social injustices that now have a face and a name in your students, your clients at work. Homes where you are surrounded by nine, ten, twelve other brilliant and unique beings, each having varying levels of existential crises on the daily—each wanting to share in this clarification of self with one another.

Because that is—in my experience—what these service years are all about: a clarification of self. You will surprise yourself, both in good ways and in bad, you will succeed and you will fail, but you will never do any of these things alone. It is a cycle of nourishment and replenishment—you are filled up through your community, your faith and spirituality, your work, precisely so that you can consistently give yourself back to that same community, faith and spirituality, work. It is a constant cycle, this clarification of self, and though challenging—one that is well worth the undertaking.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Discerning Post-Grad Service

The following is a reflection written by Lydia Hawkins, one of this year's Little Village House Volunteers. To learn more about how to apply to be an Amate House Volunteer, click here.

“So, what are you going to do next year?”

The loaded question that plagues senior year of college.

Just when you finally feel like you have settled down from the standard high school question of “Where are you going to college?” and then the over-asked college questions of  “Where are you from? What do you study?,” this question pops up and reminds you not too get too comfortable.

Some seniors seem to have it all figured out. They’re graduating with the major they first declared, their resume is filled with activities and honors that pave a smooth path to their goal, and they've got the year after college all figured out simply because it’s what they've had in mind all along.

Then there are those of us without answers to the dreaded question, looking at others’ certainty with a mixture of envy and doubt at such clarity.

Throughout my collegiate journey, I changed my course of studies almost 5 times before I officially declared at the beginning of my junior year. My resume looks like a white wall that someone let loose on with a paintball gun full of mixed experiences. I have continually felt drawn towards work that involves people’s personal development, especially in spiritual and psychological matters. But I couldn't quite figure out if I wanted to live that out through teaching…counseling…ministry…writing….or some combination of them all. I spent my senior year applying to grad programs, but as I was working on applications, I felt a shift in where my heart was at.

In the fall semester, I began to find myself feeling more alive in the interpersonal activities I was involved in (leading retreats, service trips, and relationships with friends) than in my classwork. And because I’m a GIANT NERD, that was new for me. As I was going through the application process for grad programs, I felt as though I didn't have enough clarity to choose a focus of study or enough determination to make a commitment to one. I felt like I needed some time away from school, grounded in real-life experience and giving myself some space to find clarity instead of just plowing forward.

I halted my grad school applications and started applying for post-grad service programs instead. I found out about Amate House and was eventually offered a place in the program. But as is my traditional decision-making styles, as soon as I had to make an affirmative decision for anything, I started freaking out and wondering if this was really the right choice for me. I ultimately decided Amate House was a good choice. But for those of you who find yourselves in moments of discernment about the dreaded question, here are a few practices I have found helpful, whether you be discerning Amate House, any post-grad program, grad school, or whatever trek into the unknown that is calling you.

  • Ask questions. It is really hard to make any decision well without having all of the information to make it. I called the staff of Amate House and the grad programs I was interested in multiple times and asked LOTS of questions. Make an investment in your decisions by taking the time to figure out what exactly you might be getting yourself into. 
  • Be aware of your motivations. I always find it helpful to make myself explore the why behind anything I am pursuing. Maybe you’re more attracted to the “idea” or “image” of what something could be than the meat of what you would actually be doing. Maybe you’ve had an idea in mind for your life for so long, that you haven’t taken the time to realize it’s gone stale. If your motivations for any form of commitment are because you feel like you “should,” because it will look great on your resume, or because you’re just stalling for time until the next best thing comes, you might find it difficult to maintain the motivation you need throughout your commitment.
  • Gather perspective outside yourself. It is really easy to lose sight of good decisions in all the fears, loss, and excitement that may be going on within you. I often find that when I get lost in my own head or feelings, others’ can very clearly see things I’m missing or intentionally ignoring. So…read about others’ experiences in similar fields, ask the opinions of close friends or community members, and/or take your decisions to prayer.
  • Be practical. I hate even putting this bullet point in here because I’m such an idealist, but no matter how exciting a choice may seem, we still have to pay attention to the nitty-gritty. Can you currently afford this choice? How will this decision affect you long-term and is it worth it? Is this choice really the best decision for this time in your life or can you come back to it later if you’re still interested? 
  • Listen to your desires. At the end of all this decision-making, I think (and so do the Jesuits) that one of the clearest signpost for discernment is our deepest desires. Despite 4 years of meandering exploration throughout college, I had a consistent desire to be part of people’s formations. Despite my many mixed emotions about spending a year in the Amate House program, I still felt a peaceful tug towards it. I personally believe that tug was the Holy Spirit and I believe that if I seek to be aware, she will continue to illuminate my path, one step at a time.
Lastly, remember a few things:
  • No choice is perfect. And if you keep waiting around for the choice that matches all your deepest desires and dreams, you’ll be looking for a while.
  • All choices are limiting. If you’re like me, you tend to get stuck in decision-making by “what-ifs” and the paths not being taken. But all choices are limiting…eventually we just have to make one, jump in, and keep discerning along the way.
  • Once you make a decision, congratulations! But don’t let the confidence in that decision make you think you’ve got it all figured out. You still have to remain open to whatever that experience will offer you.

Many blessings on the journey.

The early deadline for the Amate House Volunteer Application is February 1! To learn more about how to apply, click here!