Name: Sara Robinson
Type of Project: Service-Learning and Community Service
For my STEP signature project I went to the city of Chicago on a 10 week mission trip with Cru, an international Christian organization. While in Chicago I was given the opportunity to serve those on different campuses across the city, do homeless outreach, and work with the Greater Chicago Food Depository. During this trip I was also trained in leadership and ministry and met with a mentor each week to reflect on the project and process what happened that week.
When I was choosing a signature project to pursue with STEP I wanted to make sure that I chose a project which would be transformational in my life. Little did I know how transformational this trip would be when I chose it. First off, it transformed my view of the world. While in the city of Chicago I sent a lot of time interacting with others from around the world from different age groups, but mainly college students. Throughout our mission I spent a lot of time discussing different spiritual beliefs with those from different countries and different walks of life. After just the first week of getting to serve and speak with these people I knew that I was going to learn a lot this summer and be exposed to many different cultures and beliefs. I was given the opportunity to have discussions with those from many different forms of Christianity, a few cults, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and those with no spiritual background. Not only did I get to dive into their lives and learn more about their beliefs and where they stem from, but I also got to hear their opinions on my life and m beliefs. While this was not the only part of the trip, it opened my eyes to the ways in which cultures around the world differ and how open many others are to talk about life and beliefs. I got to step out of the American self-centered culture and enter the world of those from places such as Brazil, India, China, the Middle East, and many other countries.
Another major way in which I experienced transformation was in my understanding of myself. Being introverted, I always took this as a negative trait and used it as an excuse to hide rather than using it to connect with others. Because of being introverted, I am more easily able to connect with those who are quieter, am more likely to notice those sinking into the background, and am gentler going into conversations with others. I learned to ask good questions so that I could fall into the role of being a listener, I learned how to effectively have quiet time to reflect and rejuvenate myself, and I learned to connect with others in deep ways which I did not think were possible. My view on my introverted nature changed from a negative aspect of myself to a positive trait which I could use to care for those around me better. I also learned a lot about myself as a leader. While on this trip there were many times in which I was asked to lead various events and was given the opportunity to lead a small group and be a mentor with 3 girls one on one. From these experiences my understanding of leadership and it as a quality which could be seen in myself changed. While before I only saw myself as a leader in certain situations, I learned that others see many qualities within me which make me a leader. After diving into this with my mentor, I have been able to use these skills more in order to be a good leader not only throughout the trip, but as I have come back home to Ohio State. Finally, I learned a lot about my love for others and serving them. On the trip I was given the opportunity to serve many other people of different backgrounds than myself. I came to understand that my passion for serving others stemmed from my love and care for others. I got to hear their stories and meet them where they were at in order to best serve them. I got to learn from them and from their experiences. Each person has a story and that story is beautiful. I was able to invest in the lives telling these stories and care for each of them individually and serve them.
Being in Chicago for 10 weeks meant that there were many different events, interactions, relationships, and activities that led to the change and transformation previously discussed. While there is not enough time in the day to write down each of these and how they each effected me, I will expand on a few which stick out to me looking back at the trip. One event/activity that stuck out to me from the trip was my time spent serving at the Greater Chicago Food Depository. I was able to serve here once almost every week while in Chicago. This is the food bank which supplies food to many other services throughout the Greater Chicago Area in order to feed the hungry. While serving with them I was given the chance to work in many different areas. These ranged from working in the warehouse packing food to volunteering at the Annual Hunger Walk in order to raise money for all of the local organizations feeding those in need throughout the city. This experience effected the transformation of both my view of myself and of my view of the world. Each time I volunteered I got to interact with those volunteering alongside me and learn about why they were passionate about feeding the less fortunate. I heard heartbreaking stories, and stories of joy. I met people from all different walks of life who were all there for different reasons. I was given the chance to process my reason for serving and my love for those receiving the food that I packed, even though I may not know them. I got to step out of my comfort zone and see first hand the need and hunger locally. My eyes and heart were opened to those I was serving as well as those I was serving alongside and each of these people played a part in the transformation I experienced this summer.
While I had hundreds of conversations with different people throughout the summer, one of the interactions which stands out to me is one with two girls from India who practice the Hindu faith. I began a conversation and asked them about their beliefs. From talking to them I got to hear about hardships that they were facing because of these beliefs, especially since moving to the United States because they are the minority. I got to learn about how their culture is different and similar to ours here in the United States. I got to tell them my beliefs and hear about their opinions on those things. When I went to say goodbye to them one of them asked me why I had initiated and sat through that conversation when I did not have to. I had never been asked this or thought a lot about it before so I had to stop and think about it. I realized that I was genuinely interested in hearing their opinions on the matter. I was not starting the conversation to create small talk of convince them one way or another, but I wanted to hear what they thought and believed and how that impacted their lives. I wanted to hear their stories. I wanted to serve them because I cared about them and their lives even though I had just met them. I realized that even though I can be introverted and quieter, I love to enter into more intimate conversations with just a few people and I thrive in those situations. From this conversation I not only learned a lot about a different part of the world and different religion, but also about myself because of this simple question asked by a girl I started a conversation with on a college campus.
This trip was made up of a total of 96 students, all there to learn and serve the city and the people in it. On thing I noticed about this group was that in our down time everyone wanted to invest into and learn about each other’s lives as well. It is through this group of people that I learned and grew a lot. While conversations with them may not have been the goal or purpose of the trip, it is many times the things that you do not expect that will have the greatest impact on you. My next two examples of things that led to the change and transformation previously discussed are based on interactions with the group that I went to Chicago to serve with (other members of the trip). First, is a friend who I graduated from high school with but fell out of contact with until this trip that we happened to be on together. Almost a year ago he made it his goal to talk to one new person every day. He would go around and find one person to ask a series of questions to and write about each of them in a blog he kept. Over the summer he decided to focus on talking to and learning more about those on the trip. Since Cru is a Christian organization, he decided to focus each week on a different fruit of the Spirit. He would talk to people each day who he believed showed the quality of the fruit which he was focused on that week. As the weeks went on he never talked to me. Then one day he pulled me aside and said he wanted to talk to me about gentleness. Growing up an athlete and being very competitive, this has never been a trait which I exemplified, but he thought differently. During the trip I was assigned to lead a small group and meet with girls each week one on one to help them to process and reflect on the trip. While before I thought that I was only chosen for this because I led a similar group at home, he opened my eyes to how the quality of gentleness was shown in me through that role and how it contributed to me being a good leader. He allowed me to process what gentleness and being a leader meant in my life and he told me the ways in which he saw things play out in my daily life and interactions with others. Through this conversation I began to see how my quieter side allowed me to better invest into others and ways in which I had been a leader in my past and on the trip. This realization allowed me to use these skills more intentionally to invest in others and be a leader in the community, both of which are things that have continued on with me back to Ohio State. This short interaction was one which had a major impact in my transformation of my view of myself and the skills which I possess.
Finally, the last relationship I will talk about which played a large role on the transformations listed before are a group that we called “The Squad” in Chicago. This group was made up of 5 students on the trip who all met for the first time in Chicago. By the end of the trip our group was inseparable. While I could write pages on the things I learned from each of them, I will briefly describe one thing about each of them which led to transformation in my life over the summer. Jay showed me what it meant to drop everything in order to care for others and was patient in asking the right questions in order to invest in the lives of those around him. Ryan cared about people around him more than anyone else on the trip and was willing to lose sleep and miss trains in order to show he cared about you and help with whatever was needed. Josh showed me the value of being willing to be open about our struggles to those around us in order to learn and grow from them. Hannah forced me to see my value and show me how to use different gifts in order to serve different people. Each of them opened up about their personal stories and even though we all may be from the Midwest, each of our stories and struggles are extremely different. By growing closer with them over the course of the summer my view of the world transformed because I no longer saw a lot of struggles as being distant from me, but as being all around me. I realized that I do not need to travel around the world to learn about different backgrounds and hardships because I could find so many different things in just the stories of these 4 other college kids from the Midwest. They also contributed to the transformations about myself by teaching me the different things listed above and helping me to reflect on and see different qualities in myself.
This change and transformation is significant in my life because it has shifted the way that I live, the way I view the world, and the way I see myself. Academically, I learned a lot about what it was like to be a leader through the personal discovery previously discussed as well as through the leadership training that I went through as a part of the project. I learned how to effectively take qualities about myself and use them in a positive way which allows me to be the best I can be. I also realized through this experience that sometimes we can learn more outside the classroom than inside of it. While books can teach me about different cultures and beliefs, there is something special and impactful about being able to learn about these things from someone who has experienced them. This transition in view of the world showed me further how I can move forward academically outside of the classroom. It also helped me professionally because many times in the engineering and supply chain career I will interact with those from around the world. By having my eyes opened to other cultures I will better be able to understand and interact with those of a different culture and background than myself. It also was valuable for my future plans because it reveled to me my care for others around me and for serving other people. This has led to me looking deeper into different career possibilities with non-profit organizations which would allow me to use my skills and education in order to serve others. Personally, this transformation was valuable for my life because it revealed to me many qualities about myself which I will be able to use more effectively in the future. The ways in which this transformational experience is valuable to my life are endless and I cannot wait to see the ways in which they continue to effect my future and development academically, person ally, and professionally