"Who we are and who we are meant to become is a collection of constant creation and revision...I am still a work in progress."

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

More Than a Drop in my Bucket

Thinking back, I easily remember the day when the Service-Learning interest card popped through my mail slot.  At first, I didn't know much about the program. I just thought that it sounded interesting and would probably look good on my resume. After much encouragement from my mother, I decided to fill out the card and send it back. I thought little of what that card meant, that is until I came to school.  All I know now, is that fate must have intervened.  

Sitting within the cramped white walls on that first English class in September, my first thought was “Wow, there are a ton of girls in this class. Oh boy, I hope it isn't dramatic.” Once we went around the room introducing ourselves, it became clear that this was a different type of class then from what I was used to. Instead of the usual “Hi my name is and this is my major” we began with saying what service activities we participated in throughout high school. Even though I always thought I was involved in high school, I couldn't help but feel intimidated by my peers lengthy lists of activities. But it was during that time, that I first began to see how Saint Joe's and ultimately service-learning would soon change my mentality. From that moment on, instead of feeling the urge to be competitive, I began to appreciate what each individual offered.

As the weeks flew by, I began to see how much I have changed. Through service-learning, I grew as a person. I learned to share my knowledge and experiences with others. I began to value my education even more. I finally understood how truly blessed I was to be going to college, especially at Saint Joseph's University. Not only was I learning about the failed education system in class, but I was working to improve this devastating problem each week at service. Now of course, it is only a drop in a bucket. But who is to say that this drop isn't important? I know for a fact that this experience is changing me for the better, not to mention Francis. I am beginning to overlook stereotypes, learning for myself through experience the definitions of hard work, dedication, and success.

There is one particular project that Francis and I work on together, in which I truly learned what it meant to be a woman with and for others. Francis loves words. Any chance she is given to use a dictionary, she will use it. One Wednesday there were a few nouns that she could not understand: aspiration, appreciation, and accomplishment. I could not help but feel deeply saddened that she did not know what these words meant. So an idea came to me. Why don't we make Francis her own dictionary?

I scrambled for paper and markers. I punched holes in the paper with my pen and tied the pages together with paper clips. I wrote out “Francis's Dictionary” in bold, red, block letters. On each of the following pages I wrote aspiration, appreciation, and accomplishment. I asked Francis to write the dictionary definition beside each word. After that, we decided to discuss who we looked up to. After deciding that we looked up to Oprah, our parents, and Beyonce, I asked Francis to draw them on the paper. I saw her finally grasping the intensity of these words. So from that day forward, whenever Francis does not know a word, I ask her to jot it down in her dictionary, along side of silly doodles of course.

I love learning new words and trying to use them in daily life. This might be one of the reasons for why I find English so satisfying and fascinating. I find looking up words in a dictionary or thesaurus to be just as fulfilling as Francis. This could be one of the reasons why we work so well together. Through our love of words we have bonded. My heart melts each time I watch Francis get that spark in her eye each time she flips through the pages of that dictionary. I am incredibly grateful to be able to share in this learning experience with Francis.

Over the past weeks of the semester, I have learned a lot about the real world. Working with Francis, I have been able to share the knowledge I have had through years of schooling. In return, Francis has shared with me the knowledge she has gained over her lifetime. This is the realization that I needed. I am not in competition with others. Instead, I am working with others, to gain the most I can through personal connections. I am a learner myself; we all are.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Linking Worlds

The link between the real world and the Center for Literacy simply needs to be discovered. The aged metal may be tarnished, yet the valuable luster still manages to shine through. Draped with interwoven layers of rich ivy, the connection between the two worlds is hidden to most of society. The arch much like the Center for Literacy, is just awaiting to be appreciated. This gateway leads to much more than a home, instead this archway symbolizes a communal safehaven. Once you travel beneath this arc, whether a tutor or student, you continue onto a journey of change.

The archway acts as a symbol of change in my life. Every Wednesday evening, as I make my way underneath this arch, I start to feel an overwhelming sense of excitement and determination. Even though I am exhausted after a day of classes, I know that within the next couple of hours I am bettering my own life. I am so grateful and glad to be able to pass along some knowledge that will help better another person's life. In return, my learner teaches me so much about reality. She inspires me to work to the best of my ability.

I remind myself of Francis whenever I feel tired, over-worked, or aggravated from my day. Not only does she work full-time at the airport, but she sends her paycheck to her family in Africa. Plus she uses her free time to better herself, as she takes classes at the Center for Literacy. Not to mention she dedicates her Wednesday nights for our tutoring sessions. Each time she walks underneath the archway, Francis is taking the steps to bettering her life. This rusted, ivy-covered arch acts as much more than an entrance to a building. Instead this gateway is an entrance towards self-improvement.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Now and Then

Three months ago today was the first day of classes at Saint Joseph's University. My official start of college. Looking back, I can easily recall my unbearable nerves and incredible excitement. Finally, here was the fresh start that I had been craving throughout high school. But what was I going to do with this opportunity?

Before I came to school, I kept a mental to-do list of all of the things I wanted to accomplish in my freshman year. I started off with wanting to keep my grades up. I wanted to participate in a couple extra-curricular activities...one sport team, one community service group, and one program involved in the arts. I wanted to keep in touch with my friends and family from back home. I wanted to take advantage of the location of SJU and explore as much of the city as I possibly could. Most importantly, I wanted to surround myself with a group of really great people. Although the list was a good reminder to keep my head straight, it added a whole new level of personal stress to be successful.

As the weeks passed by quickly, I was unable to pull myself back from my college experience. With the stresses from classes, social pressures, and a busy schedule, I barely had any time to reflect. I was unable to fully appreciate everything that surrounded me. Instead of recognizing how I truly have grown from my classes, I decided to criticize my B+ G.P.A. Instead of embracing and loving my new friends, I became determined to make even more friends. Instead of focusing on healing from my recent break-up, I decided to emphasize the need to move on to new boys. Instead of appreciating the fact that some of my relationships with old friends have strengthened, I focused on trying to reel back the friendships that have weakened or those I have lost.

Eventually, I was able to take myself away from the situation by making time for myself. I needed an escape. Through exploration of the backyard to my campus house, I found an escape. Literally, a fire escape. This staircase led me to exactly what I needed to escape from reality, the roof. By spending time on the roof, I took time to not only appreciate the surrounding natural beauty, but the beauty in my life. This is when I truly began to appreciate everything that was going right. I had stayed true to who I am. I have grown both academically and spiritually. I have became friends with such kind, fun, inspiring, and loving people. Sure I have made mistake along the way, but I decided to now focus on the positive.

Change can be complicated and confusing. But once embraced, all opportunities to better yourself become available. I am not an entirely different from the person on August 30th , but I have definitely learned a lot about myself. My priorities have not changed. Instead, I have strengthened these priorities. I realize that I can not expect myself to be perfect, nor will things always turn out the way I want. I now embrace my situation and everything that I am. My positive outlook on life has been restored.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Anything is Possible

Things must get worse before they get any better.  While devouring the end of the book, I could not help but remind myself of this common phrase in order to calm my nerves.  Graphic scenes of child abuse, drug abuse, physical abuse, murder, incarceration filled the pages of the last section.  I continued to carry hope that at least  Rosa could make a change for the better.  After enduring continual hardships, Rosa surpassed the common expectations of dying an addict.  Since she struggled for years with her addiction to both heroin and cocaine, Rosa finally came clean.  Taking herself away from the drug infested streets, Rosa decided to move into a better area, where she would not be tempted to take drugs.  She additionally removed herself away from Patty, so that she could finally take care of herself for once.  She rose above her posionous community and proved to help better her ownself.      

Once given the opportunity to share her life experience amongst a congregation, Rosa Lee explained a valuable lesson, “When you change the way you've been all your life, anything is possible” (Dash 241). In this simple explanation of what she had learned through her life, Rosa Lee emphasized the major theme of change. Her life story acts as a lesson to all. Ultimately, you alone have the power to change your own life. 

In light of the topic of change, I remind myself of the huge transformation my learner Francis is undertaking.  Although it has been a mere two months, I have noticed a change in my learner.  Not only does her trust in me grow more and more each week, but she has advanced academically.  Francis, who could at first not understand the simplest of vocabulary words, is now using words such as "ecstatic", "consistently", and "decipher" in our common conversations.  Each session I become more aware of her passion for words.  Today when we took a break from our session, Francis picked up a dictionary and wrote definitions in her notebook for fun.  Like Rosa, Francis is changing her own life for the better. 

Who would have thought that a druggie, prostitute, ex-convict would turn her life around at the end of her life willingly?  Who would have thought that a 21 year old woman who reads at a 4th grade level uses S.A.T. leveled vocabulary in everyday conversation?  Anything is possible.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Meeting Francis

The day finally came that I met with my tutor at the Center for Literacy. All of the training sessions, day dreams, and discussions about service led up to this evening. However, the actual experience was much different from what I had imagined. I awoke from an accidental nap ten minutes before the van's departure from Wolfington. Needless to say, I sprung from my bed, grabbed the tutoring materials and scurried out the door. After a five minute run, I made it to Wolfington with a few minutes to spare. I was glad to see that fellow classmates were sitting impatiently on the curb. Since I only had a few minutes to gather my thoughts, I did not allow my nerves to overwhelm me. Instead I spoke with one of my classmates about an upcoming volleyball game until I heard an approaching vehicle.

Sure enough, the maroon van quickly pulled towards where I stood by the curb. I slid into the second row and began to fiddle with my bag. The tension was obviously present, as no one spoke on our way to CFL. The entire journey I tried to make small talk to clear the air. After a few attempts, I decided it would be best to instead take in my surroundings. I began to see children running innocently through the streets on their way home from school. This sight alone reminded me of the film that we have watched this past week in class. After hearing passing sirens, my nerves stood on edge. I could not help but question if the neighborhoods were safe. Obviously, the schools in Philadelphia are unlike the schools in my hometown. I would never question students walking home from school in my area. However, I remind myself that this is a whole new world. The poor learning environment is one of the leading problems in the troublesome education system.

The van parked in front of the familiar brick building. The class unloaded from the vehicle and shyly entered into Center for Literacy. While we usually were greeted by Mark's enthusiasm, this time one of the students stood outside and greeted us with a puff of cigarette smoke. We trailed in past the student, and made our way into the building only to be welcomed by a class full of students. The lingering question in everyone's head was “Which student is mine?”

As I sat in my seat waiting for Mark to begin the session, I scanned the room and took in the initial impressions of the students. Just from my first judgments I easily understood the diversity between us. While the tutors were predominantly white, the students were mostly black. The tutors were all college students, while the students themselves were generally middle aged. Once Mark began the meeting, a few other students trailed into the building. One particularly stood apart from the others. She was a tall, beautiful young woman who walked in with a giant smile across her face. In a few minutes time, I learned that she would be my student.

Francis is a twenty-one year old woman who moved from Africa to Philadelphia two years ago. Currently, she lives with her uncle and another woman with three kids of her own. She works five days a week from 6 in the morning til 2 in the afternoon at the Philadelphia airport. Like myself, she loves to belt out the lyrics to Rihanna even though she knows she isn't the best singer. Her favorite food is rice and she likes to watch Wizards of Waverly Place. Her dream job is to become a nurse so she can help others. It just so happens that her parents were unable to care for her in the seventh grade. It just so happens that because of this troubling circumstance she lost interest in school and dropped out. It just so happens that a proper education is the only hindrance pulling Francis back from her dream job. So instead of having a pity party for herself, Francis uses her days off from work to go to school. Francis is admirably working towards bettering her life. We are working together to make her dream a reality.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

In Three Days Time

As I walked past Wolfington Hall earlier today, I imagined myself in the same location in just three days time. Waiting patiently for the service van, I make small talk with other classmates in attempt to distract my nerves. My legs tremble with anxiety and excitement as I think ahead to the next hour. I pull on the neckline of my Saint Joseph's University t-shirt. I scan the other students' outfits to see if mine stands out. No one else is wearing a v-neck, which only increases my worries about my choice in shirt.

I decide to stare intently at the nearby construction workers to take my mind off of my wardrobe issues. As I take in my current surroundings, I cannot help but picture the differences between here and my perceptions of the service sight. Feeling alarmed, I remind myself of the tips that Shannon and Megan gave to the class on our first day. “Make eye contact with everyone you walk past.” “Act like you belong.” “Do not bring your purse.” Oh great, these reminders just worsen my nerves.

As my mind continues to wander, I imagine riding down a trash ridden street. I bounce in my seat as the van races over bumpy potholes. Shortly after, the van pulls over towards a run-down, brick building called the Center For Literacy. One look at this establishment and an overwhelming sense of curiosity takes over. My entire body is alert and my mind is focused.

Emerging slowly from the vehicle, I follow my class over to the steps. Each step I climb, I remember how excited I am to meet my student. Even though I feel nervous, I am sure that their feelings are much worse. I cannot begin to know how it feels being an adult who can not read or write. These adults must have much determination and courage to take on this journey. I am reminded that this experience will not only better the life of another individual, but myself. I am ready.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Taking on my Education
One Door at a Time

While I lazily walk around campus on a Sunday morning, I stop in front of the most curious of buildings. I usually run past it on my way to an 8 a.m. class, but this morning I just take a moment to admire its' beautiful architecture. The building is known to be home to the fine and performing arts. Since I am interested in the fine arts, it is no wonder that I feel such a strong connection to this building.

As I wait outside, I look at several students who make their way past the crimson door. Even though, I would love to walk right through that door, I stop myself. I want to make sure that when I open that door, I belong. Although it was easy to have someone open the door for me, I want to find a way to open the door myself. I decide to find a way to involve myself within the arts building. I will take this opportunity and learn for myself what truly is behind that crimson door. Through this simple story, I have decided what it means to take my education.

I want to earn my education, not have it be handed to me on a silver platter. Throughout my time at Saint Joseph's University, I will take the initiative to make the best version of myself. I am both passionate and dedicated to make this possible. By working to the best of my ability, I will gain a greater education as well as a sense of accomplishment.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

12 First Impressions

1. People are friendlier here, even the squirrels.

It may just be the hawk pride, but every person I have met on campus is genuinely friendly. No matter where I walk on campus, I always stumble into someone who greets me with a “Hi Aly.” I am incredibly impressed with this fact, since it is so hard to keep track of names and faces. Especially since these past few weeks have been nothing but information overload. Not only are the freshmen incredibly kind, but so are the dining hall staff, professors, upperclassmen, and squirrels Now I know it might sound silly to acknowledge that the squirrels are noticeably nicer than home, but it is true. In my hometown, squirrels are known to eat through window screens and drop acorns on people walking underneath trees. Here, the squirrels come up to your feet and prance around. I couldn't help but compare the squirrels to the people. The squirrels are completely content with where they are living so they treat others better. I feel that this same concept is true to the people at Saint Joseph's University. Everyone on campus is happy to be here, so they in turn are in better moods.

2. Campus takes my breath away.

While walking through campus on a peaceful, quiet morning I could not help but be thankful to be surrounded by such beauty. The buildings on campus make me feel as though I am living in a dreamland. No wonder people refer to Barbelin Hall as Hogwarts. Campus is also the perfect combination of the excitement of a city and comfort of the suburbs. Not only are the buildings beautiful, but so is the wildlife. Walking through campus makes me appreciate the lush environment that surrounds me.

3. You can always find something that you like to eat.

The dining hall is so flexible with food options. I like that at every meal there are numerous options to choose from. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, so I am pleased to say that SJU does it justice. The omelet station is so fresh and delicious every morning. Not to mention, the omelet chef is incredibly sweet. I am also guilty to have taken a picture of my “hawks” waffle and sending it to my mom. This is a definite perk to waking up for my early classes.

4. Freedom, finally.

You have to be self motivated to do laundry or clean your side of the room. But other than those few chores, I am free to do whatever I want. I have to say that I love the feeling of being on vacation.

5. Sharing a room is a lot better than I thought.

I have never had to share a room before, so I was unsure of how it would work out. But I have to say I like that I always have someone to talk to or go to breakfast with. I am glad that I chose my roommate on Facebook ahead of time. We have similar interests and habits so it makes life easier. Plus walking into a room where you favorite music is already playing is a comforting feeling.

6. The internet connection aggravates me.

Well of course there has to be some things about college that aren't the best. The internet connection is top on that list. I can never Skype friends or family because it always cuts in and out. I also hate having to sign into the sju wireless portal any time I want to go online.

7. SJU is conditioning us much like Pavlov.

Every morning when I am crossing over from Maguire Campus to Campion, I wait for a bell. At first, I thought that it was the most annoying invention, but now I am trained. I no longer wait for the walk signal but listen for a bell.

8. Whenever one door won't open, learn a trick.

The very first time I used the bathroom in Saint Albert's Hall, I was locked in. The door often jams and unfortunately I had no idea how to open it. This same pattern continued until the girls on my floor were sick of being stuck in the bathroom. After much deliberation, we came up with a few tricks to open the bathroom door. I learned that even if your door won't open like you are used to, you can learn a few tricks on making it work the way you anticipated it would.

9. 40 Lapsley Lane = 102 Myers Street

After a few weeks, I am already referring to 40 Lapsley Lane as my home. There are similar qualities between my home in Forty Fort compared to my new one in Merion Station. My R.A. Teresa acts as the mother figure, which establishes a similar feel of home. She watches over us and makes sure we are all doing emotionally and physically well. At first she may seem strict, but I now know she is only looking out for us. My housemates and I have bonded quickly. We feel extremely comfortable with each other and have established a sisterhood of sorts. I can even smell the fresh scent of laundry every time I walk through the front door.

10. I never want to take a cab again.
At first I was excited by the idea of taking a cab, but now I will avoid cabs at all costs. Shelling out over twenty dollars just for one night of transportation drives me crazy. Not only are cabs expensive, but the drivers have no sense of direction. We ended up spending an hour to get into the city, while it should have taken twenty minutes.

11. There is never enough time.

While I thought that joining the rugby team would be fun, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I admit that I love the team aspect of the sport. All of the girls were so welcoming and fun to be around. But spending three hours a day getting tackled and shoved was time consuming. Not to mention the pain your body endures after practice. I was exhausted when I came home from practice and often fell asleep on my homework. I would have definitely stuck to the sport if I didn't already have so much going on. But I strongly suggest that if you get the chance to play rugby, accept it. Even if it is only for a week.

12. I love my classes.

Not only do I hold a genuine interest in each one of my classes, but each of my professors make class fun. I thoroughly enjoy that each class is discussion based.