It’s been about a year since the last blog post went up, and hopefully I’m going to switch gears here a bit. College graduation happened in May at which I said teary goodbyes to my remarkable professors and some great friends at USF—it has to be a testament to the impact my English professors have had on me that I’m reading David Foster Wallace’s whopping, thousand-paged Infinite Jest simply for kicks and am loving every minute of it. Now I’m preparing for my next adventure: a year volunteering overseas with an incredible organization called L’Arche International.
I discovered L’Arche after reading a book by Henri Nouwen about his experience working with the organization in Canada (the book is called Adam). Basically, L’Arche grows communities with people who have special needs by creating group homes where people with and without special needs can live together in supportive partnership. Many of the group homes have about four people who have special needs and four people who do not. They are grouped in a community environment and asked to help each other live the best lives they can—whatever that means for each individual. Many of the residents of the homes work their own job or go to school, some help in the community garden, and others live a more relaxed pace with support from the assistants. My community will be in a neighborhood called Lambeth in London. I chose this organization because of its philosophies of mutuality (not as much a caretaking situation as it is an actually authentic house of family-like fellowship), its policies on spiritual lives (supportive but not forceful or required), and its ratio of people with special needs to people without special needs (often 1:1, which is basically unheard of). One of my favorite things about L’Arche is that it celebrates excessively. I’m talking about all-day birthday parties, singing and dancing and cake (Do they have cake in England?).
I chose this specific community in Lambeth, London (the organization has communities all over the world) for several reasons: One, I speak the language (mostly…), Two, I hope to use the location as a chance to really immerse myself in both a big-city setting and in another culture, and Three, I hope to use the location as a platform for a bit of no-pressure, weekend-trip-or-two, European travel.
I chose the field because I feel most myself when I am with people who have special needs. I feel like I am with family. I love the honesty and the pace of life and I feel authentically valued for everything I am, no exceptions. I am excited for the trip and the travel, yes, but I am much more excited to meet the people who I will live with for the next year and for the things I hope to learn from them. Pardon the cliché, but I really mean that, because there are so many things about living in London that I have no idea how to manage. First of all, apparently people don’t drink coffee there. I’m going to need a lot of help navigating that whole fiasco, and I’ll need the people in my house’s help to find a place that will sell/make me coffee. I’m also fairly directionally challenged, and the people living in my house will have experience with the transportation systems and with the city in general. I am truly looking forward to the opportunities to open myself up to learning from them.
I think the best things happen when I let experiences change me, and that’s what I want from this. No-expectation, ready-for-anything, encountering and experiencing openly.
A lot of the specifics of what my time will involve are still fuzzy, but I hope to keep everyone informed as much as I can as I get over there, move in, and start training. I’d love feedback from anyone about your experiences in this field or in this country, from what I should pack to what I should do while I’m there. I’d love any contacts you’d like to share with me. I’d even love to complain together about how tough it is to navigate the visa system (seriously…). Thanks for sticking with me, all of you! I leave on July 15th, and until then you’ll find me in Sioux City, Iowa, reading Foster Wallace and watching Travel with Rick Steves until I drop.