Boston Impressions, so far

I’ve been in Boston for 3 weeks now (halfway through the summer) and really haven’t had much time to blog. It feels like I haven’t had much time to write lately, whether in Pennsylvania or in Boston, but compared to last year, free time seems to be lacking. Maybe it’s the scorching heat that keeps me indoors? For whatever reason, I’ve been exploring less, reading less, reflecting less.

Last year, I would go outside, maybe read by the river for a while, and then walk with no set destination. I would eventually make it back to the dorm about 3 miles later. I have yet to do that this summer. I am slowly making my way through C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. Last year I finished 3 or 4 books and short stories. I have 3 other books on my dorm room shelf that might return to Pennsylvania unopened. I also brought my journal along with me and threw a blank journal into my luggage just in case. I haven’t written in either one yet. At the end of the day, I just get too tired to think about, let alone write about, my day. I don’t know if I will have the motivation to catch up on journaling until after this summer.

I haven’t hung out in the boys’ dorm nearly as much this year. By this time last year, I pretty much knew all of the boys’ full names and probably life stories. Right now, I’m doing dinner check-ins for the 14 to 17 year olds, and I’m still asking for their names (granted, there are twice as many boys this year as last year). The boys’ dorm is no longer next door to the girls’ dorm, so it is more difficult to stop by for a few minutes just to hang out. Also, the TV room is on the opposite side of the building from the office. Last year it was all in the same room, and the boys would watch movies or play games while we sat at the computer. We got to participate in some interesting, sometimes profound, conversations and discussions. This year, however, I have gone deeper than surface level with only a select few.

The staff feels different this year, too. Not better, not worse – just different. We are still too overqualified for the work that we do. We still have an eclectic mix of personalities, backgrounds, and interests. And we still have some internal issues. Communication seems to be a little more difficult this year. “Dropping the ball” is a phrase that has been used on more than one occasion this summer. However, there have been changes in procedure around here. We are all getting used to new systems and new methods of communication. Until we all have an understanding of how everything works, things are bound to fall through the cracks.

In spite of professional difficulties, friendships have formed easily among the staff. As a new staff person last year I perceived somewhat of a clique among the returners. This year, it seems like the line is pretty blurred between new staff and returners, even without intentionally seeking out friendships with the new people. The new people I have met this summer are pretty great, though. More than last year, I have found people with similar morals and interests, people who will join me for church services on Sunday, and people who don’t mind staying in while others go to the bar. I didn’t think I would find these kinds of people on staff this year, so I was originally hesitant to return to Boston. Who knew that a significant portion of staff would be just the kind of person I was hoping to find? I’ve enjoyed spending time with some of the women on staff, talking about worship through dance, desires for our faith, and how wonderful God truly is.

The children are interesting. They are more social with each other and more friendly with me than I had expected. All the girls on my floor are 16 or 17, a bit older than last year. Going into this summer, my expectations for socialization were set pretty low, so it wasn’t too difficult to exceed them. We have reached a point, though, where they are tired of hearing me talk at floor meetings, and I am tired of trying to talk over them. It’s moments like the floor meetings when I am glad I did not become a teacher. I would have gotten too frustrated with classroom management and attempting to assert myself.

They are teaching me about the parent I would like to become, should I have children in the future. I’d like to think I won’t become a helicopter parent and that my children will be perfectly fine speaking for themselves. I don’t want to hover over them every moment of their lives and do everything for them until they are completely incapable of independence. I want to raise my children to say please and thank you, to treat other people with respect, and not to take anything for granted. While there are standout “good kids” with positive attitudes and impeccable manners, those who complain are more outspoken. They don’t understand why they can’t get whatever they want, why they can’t expect people to clean up after them wherever they go, why they should call people by their names instead of by their home country, or why “I’m paying for this” is not always a valid argument. Some of the children have a strong sense of entitlement, expecting the world to bend over backwards for their pleasure. Sometimes it is difficult to determine if this is just typical teenage egocentrism and selfishness, but after hearing parents voice their opinions just as strongly, it is evident that the family shares a limited world view occupied by misperceived privilege. They may be used to buying their way to satisfaction and living lives without consequences. They lack the ability to see the broader picture and the perspective to understand that while they want more than what is given, they ought to be thankful for what they have.

Living a Life of Passion

“…the only life worth living is one that you’re really passionate about.” – Glee

I’ve been thinking about this quote for quite some time as I contemplated career paths and debated between job offers. And through this thinking I have focused on one main question: what is my passion? Though I pursued a degree in graphic design, which is enjoyable work for me, I am hesitant to say that is my passion. Those who are passionate about art spend their free time making art, something I am not known to do. I think my passion is people. When relationships are integral parts of my responsibilities, I take great joy in my work. I would like to find myself back in Residence Life somewhere, where the job is about people.

One of the job offers I was considering was at an organization passionate about relieving poverty in Central PA. I would have loved to take that job and develop a personal passion for poverty relief. The people I met at the office were great, and it would have been a wonderful experience doing my year of service there. The second job offer is at a company where I would do more commercial work. However, the position granted the flexibility to return to Boston in the summer to do Residence Life. In the end, I accepted the second job. The decision wasn’t about which job I was more passionate about, but what job would allow me to do what I was truly passionate about, which is Residence Life.

A few days ago, I drew up a flow chart to figure out my options for the future (I’m a visually oriented fan of organization and planning). Right now I am preparing to start my 6-month to 1-year job/internship on October 19th. At the end of the internship, I have to decide if I like the company enough to stay there permanently, if the position is offered. Yes, I stay. No, I go to grad school for counseling/higher education/student affairs and work toward becoming a Residence Director. As you can see on the chart (click to enlarge the picture), I am now at Job A. One path will lead me to a career in graphic design. All the other paths lead me to grad school. Time will tell where I end up. I just have to focus on the immediate future and living a life that I am passionate about.

High Hopes

There is something inherently open and trusting within Residence Life relationships. Though we have only been a group for two whole days, I can see how well our staff was chosen in terms of the dynamic we have already established. New staff members feel welcome to share their own residential experiences, returners share the wisdom that comes with specific Boston Ballet experiences, and we all have demonstrated a willingness to learn with and from one another. What is interesting, however, is that such willingness extends beyond the topic of our common summer mission into personal life experiences. Though a few people may dwell on the quieter side of the spectrum, I cannot say that our group has been exclusive in any way, which I find rather amazing. Sure, cliques may form. But as we learned in our training session with the consulting psychologist, cliques have a purpose and we should not try to separate them. If they did not have a purpose, they would have never formed in middle school. They give us a group to feel secure in because of the commonality. It is when cliques become malicious that they are dangerous.

But back to the inherent trust and openness… I am quite excited to see how the rest of the summer turns out. I have high hopes for our staff and what we will become because of the openness and acceptance I already see. Tonight was a particularly interesting (in a good way) night. After dinner, a group of us – five new staff members who are still new at navigating Boston’s public transportation system – decided to find a Dollar Tree based on some hurried directions from a veteran RC (Residential Counselor). It was quite an experience involving missed stops, landmarks with changed names, guidance by the scent of fried chicken, and directions from friendly strangers. But we got there with great joy and excitement, bought a bunch of stuff to use for our residents, and perhaps a few things for ourselves (including a $4 Red Sox shirt from A.J. Wright, which I will wear when I go to the game at Fenway Park in July). I think our successful excursion, without any bickering or catty “I told you we should have gotten off at that stop”, is a testament to the trust we have in each other and perhaps also in ourselves to make it through. When we returned, we decided we would stay at the dorm while the other RCs went to a karaoke bar. We thought we would watch a movie while preparing door decorations, but cell phone calls and missing DVD players canceled that plan. While I waited for the others to finish catching their loved ones up on our adventures, I turned on the tv and watched a special about teenage pregnancy. Reconvening in front of the tv, we ended up having a lengthy conversation about sex, society, and faith. While religion may normally be a topic that is avoided among unfamiliar company, it somehow became a very comfortable conversation. We knew that we were in a safe space to share our beliefs and opinions without judgment. And that, my friends, is a wonderful experience.

I wasn’t quite sure at the beginning of this week what life would be like outside of the Messiah bubble. For once, discussions of diversity during training did not center around race. There is an obvious variety of religious and political views. Just being in the urban setting of Boston presents its own set of differences. But I was most interested in seeing how the dynamics of faith and spirituality change outside of the bubble. I was quite intentional about omitting Messiah College’s classification as a Christian college from my introductions. In an environment where it cannot be assumed that everyone is a Christian, would my faith remain evident through the way I live my life? I have had friends at Messiah tell me that they can see Jesus in me, but sometimes I wonder exactly what they see. Is that just a Christian way of saying someone is really nice? Will my fellow RCs see a nice person, or something more?