By Zak Mitchell, FNSB Library '19-20
I am currently an AmeriCorps VISTA serving in the Interior here in Fairbanks, Alaska. Myself and the other 5 VISTAs were invited to Los Angeles, California for an all-expenses paid In-Service Training for 3 ½ days, food included.
Wahoo! I’ll admit that invitation didn’t catch my attention until they mentioned food. Now I’m dedicated to the cause because they have showed me they are dedicated to my appetite.
Day 1 : Salutations
I arrived at LAX around 4ish, I don’t believe in checking luggage for trips that last less than 2 weeks so I carried all of my belongings. I got to the hotel roughly 15 minutes away from the airport and checked in. I went to my room with the intention to relax, but was startled by my roommate taking a shower so I just put my things down and went wandering about looking for my cohort friends. I couldn’t find them, so I sat at a table full of strangers. All of us were from someplace different but found much common ground when we gathered the courage to talk to one another.
Day 2: Making the Most of Your VISTA Service
Training began promptly at 8:30 am, the only bummer was, we weren’t allowed to take breakfast out of the dining hall. My newly acquainted roommate and I obviously overslept and rushed downstairs to munch on a warm meal as quickly as possible.
They separated us into groups based on colors predesignated on our name tags; I was in the red group. Of course I was: I’m bold, daring, radiant, primary - pun intended. [Insert laughter here.] Pardon me while I gas myself up.
Our first class of the day was ‘Making the Most of Your VISTA Service’.
Day 3 : Serve and Thrive: Resilience as a VISTA
We were asked to write three words to describe ourselves on the first day. My first word was sensitive. When people meet me, they develop a synopsis based on the way I dress, my nonverbal communication and word choice in conversation, if they can catch me speaking. These things help them postulate who they think I am. It is rare that someone is 100% accurate, and most people never gather how empathetic I am until a koala is burned in an Austrailian forest fire and they see me crying at my desk. Nevertheless, as an empath I’ve had to learn the hard lesson of exercising emotional boundaries.
This class, lead by a wonderful woman named Shoshanna, taught us techniques to prevent what many experience at the DMV called compassion fatigue. It’s when someone is in a position to assist another, but does not appear to have any empathy in an environment where empathy should be abundant. I am certain we have all experienced a person who has been anything but compassionate about a situation we thought was dire. It doesn’t feel good, and without properly separating yourself from your clients or your taxing daily tasks, anyone can be lead down a road of being unapologetically indifferent.
So, how is that prevented? Take a walk, practice deep breathing exercises, punch a gnome, anything positive that relieves the stress.
Day 4 : Last Day of Training
I am always sad when something is over. Each moment feels like water rising until I’m completely engulfed and there is no more air to gasp. I guess I’m a little anxious when change is lurking. And our last day was everything I expected, sappy, in a good way. Acknowledgements and final remarks about the days prior, moments where we shared our thoughts in conjunction with our expectations on the first day. Goodbyes.
My philosophy is when good people with common denominators get together, it somehow feels familiar and that should be embraced. I embraced it; and I have yet to regret that choice.