Over the past few weeks, I’ve been busy preparing our participants for the upcoming Urban Service trip to NYC. The main issues we will be dealing with are food security and affordable housing, and its my job to give students a strong background in how those issues manifest in the city. Last week, we did a side to side activity where people guessed if a fact applied to State College or to New York; the average income is actually slightly higher in State College, showing the huge wealth disparity in New York.
I had an amazing experience last fall on the trip to Washington, D.C. As Penn State students, we’re lucky to attend a school that’s so focused on service, where events like THON make it easy and comfortable to get involved. What I really liked about Urban Service, however, was the emphasis on getting people to step outside of their comfort zone. A change in perspective can be one of the biggest benefits of service, and our trip leaders worked hard to not only expose us to unfamiliar situations, but lead us to reflect on the significance of what we were experiencing. I think it’s really important that Penn State students have the opportunity to get involved in that type of service experience, and I want to be a part of continuing and developing this program.
During our trip, I was always impressed by how effectively our student leaders encouraged meaningful reflection. In a discussion about social issues like homelessness, it can be hard for people to move beyond clichés; our leaders’ willingness to be open and honest about their own perspectives was the key to making the reflection time so significant. Taking a leadership role this year will not only give me the opportunity to create the same kind of experience for next year’s trips, but would be a personal challenge to dig deeper for the meaning behind that experience and share it with others.