A week ago I thought I had a clear grasp on the culture here in Dunedin. If asked I would have said, Dunedin is a city that prides themselves on the rugged, the edgy, and the different; A city that is home to one of the largest universities in New Zealand, and proud of it. However, I have since learned that Dunedin is far more than just an ordinary college town, and this realization would have never happened without the opportunity to participate in community service.
On Saturday the 23rd of April I spent my morning and afternoon volunteering at the Otago Farmers Market. Every week the market enlists local environmentalist to help educate and lead market goers on making environmentally friend decisions regarding their waste. There are four bins at the market, and figuring out which bin is correct can be a bit overwhelming and confusing to some. The bins were compost, recycle, glass, and other waste. As a volunteer we had to pay extra attention to the compost bin. This bin was special in that the contents are given to a company called Youth Grow Garden Center (YGGC). YGGC is not only a vender at the market, but also a program that provides local youth with work experience in an effort to teach them employable skills. The youth at YGGC are able to use the compost food and paper products we collect at the market as nutrients for their growing plants. As a result, our efforts at the market compost bin not only benefit the environment, but also educate the youth of Dunedin as well as help produce more food for the market.
Educating others about being environmentally conscious is a passion of mine. However, what made this day even more special was that I got to connect with the Dunedin culture in a way few international students do. Individuals at the market did not simply throw their garbage away and leave; they genuinely wanted to have a conversation with us. There was one man that came up to me that stands out. He had a pile of trash from a meal he just ate with his family in hand, awkwardly attempting to open the waste bin and throw it all in there. However, I kindly stopped him and we sorted is cans, biodegradable plates, and other plastics into the proper bins. While doing this we sparked up a conversation on who I was, why I was there, and the importance of recycling. It was not a very complex conversation; in fact it was rather basic in its content. However, this man, as well as the many others I had the privilege of speaking with, exposed me to a different side of Dunedin I had never seen before. The pride in the rugged and edgy still existed but at a softer level. These were people that had fallen in love with Dunedin so much so that they decided to raise a family here. During everyday life here in Dunedin we are rarely exposed to that demographic due to the location and arraignment of the university within the city. This experience made me realize that Dunedin is far more than a town that prides itself on its University. Every individual I came across that day had a genuine desire to learn not only about the environment but also who I was. This sort of blind kindness of strangers is a remarkably comforting quality of Dunedin and I feel privileged to have experienced just a sliver of it.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” This quote not only reflects the work I did at the Otago Farmers Market but also acts as my motivation to become a physical therapist. Back when I was attempting to choose a college major I had no idea where to start, all I knew was that I wanted to help others any way I possibly could. I desired a career where I could interact with people on a daily basis in an effort to help them feel better. I soon found that community service was the best way to explore this passion. Later that year, I discovered physical therapy through an independent volunteering endeavor at a local physical therapy clinic. The therapists I worked with had deep connections within the community because they made an effort to get to know their patients in the little time they had with them each day, not unlike the experience I had at the farmers market. Through these past experiences I have learned that service is not only about others, it’s about sharing passions and connecting with the community as a whole. However, I was only able to connect these passions to my community at home in the States.
Before this assignment I never considered getting to know Dunedin through my passion for community service. However, this experience ended up being the best way to not only pursue my own passions but also get to know the local, softer, side of Dunedin culture. As a result, I now realize that Gandhi words could not be truer, the best way to not only find myself, but also find a sense of community is through service. This day not only expanded my knowledge of Dunedin but also expanded my definition of a Global Community. I have walked away from this experience with the desire to peruse further service within not only Dunedin, but also within other countries around the world in the future. Last week in Travel Log 11 “Holding up Half the Sky” I stated that in order to create change we all needed to unite as one global community. I believe that the fist step in making any kind of change environmentally, socially, or politically on a global scale must involve expanding our definition of community and service to include these other nations in need. By working together towards a common goal as one global community, anything is possible.