For my community service, I chose to work at the St. Luke’s Older Person’s Lunch Club. This club meets once a month to provide a nice environment and a hearty meal to those over 75 living in a retirement community or on their own. The meals are provided by a local restaurant under contract and volunteers set up, serve, talk with guests, and clean up. They provide a great meeting place where people from the community can see their friends who they might not see otherwise due to difficulty moving about. The regular volunteers there really seemed like people that loved the ones they served, they showed a long-term relationship with the people and got to know them.
At first I was entering into a slightly familiar territory- I had volunteered as a server many times for my church back home; mass meals in the kitchen were my domain. This however was a new experience in that I was in an unfamiliar neighborhood with complete strangers. I was used to serving people that had known my parents as students or were friends with my grandparents. But here there was no common connection- I was the stranger. I started by staying in the background and helping as much as I could in the kitchen, but when I finally ventured into the dining area and talked with the people there, I could really feel a connection. The people there were really interested in what study abroad was and were amazed by all that I was experiencing at such a young age. A few of them talked about how their grandchildren went to the same school I was attending now. And of course, they all debated the correct way to serve tea.
I think I felt more integrated into the community after sitting down and talking with these people. I was more at ease in this unknown area. I felt less like a foreigner and more like a resident. There is a very strict rule about study abroad students not being able to work paid or unpaid during their time here. So besides the academic environment, it is quite difficult to meet locals to integrate into your new community. This chance to sit down and talk with people that had spent their entire lives in a little neighborhood showed me a new side of the London I had seen. London is a very diverse city, so to meet true born English was something I really hadn’t had the chance to experience.
Volunteering is important because it really takes you out of the bubble you adjust to during your time abroad and shows you a new light on your surroundings. You might walk down a street a thousand times during your stay here but little did you know that around the corner there was a whole new area with new stories to tell. It’s our duty as mindful travelers to put ourselves in situations we aren’t entirely used to so that we can experience the world from as many different perspectives as we can. This will ultimately make us better people by being able to see the effects a situation has on many different areas of life. Slimbach references in his writing “Upon returning home, our challenge is to then transform our new consciousness into responsible actions within nearby communities”. (2010, pg. 28) This observation is completely accurate in that as I rode the underground back to campus after my time at St. Luke’s, I could only think of different ways that I could get more involved back home in my own neighborhood.
Slimbach remarks, “The first step in this journey is to venture outside our comfort zones and get involved directly and personally in the lives of others, especially those occupying the margins of society…to create respectful and mutually beneficial relationships”. Without this opportunity at St. Luke’s, I would have never met the people that helped me feel less of an outsider in this new community. These people don’t often get to leave their homes or retirement communities; by helping them enjoy this time together, we both benefitted.
Slimbach, Richard. Becoming World Wise: A Guide to Global Learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus Pub., LLC, 2010. Kindle for Mac.