By Katinka Kalusche, Brethren Volunteer Service
Dear Future Volunteer: Congratulations on deciding to dedicate a part of your life to volunteering, to bringing both your knowledge and skills to a new place, and above all to expressing your love for people by serving others. Volunteering is so much more than just working without pay; it is an amazing experience that is most likely to fulfill and transform you.
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Katinka Kalusche, and from 2017-2018 I served as a full-time volunteer with Brethren Volunteer Service, working at Highland Park Elementary School in Roanoke, Virginia. I came to the U.S. from Germany, having decided to take a gap year in between graduating from high school and going to university. Going abroad to do my service meant to not only leave my dear family and friends for a long period of time, but to also leave behind the security and comfort that come with speaking German and living in a culture that I do not stick out of. In my service year, I learned so much about the U.S.-American culture, but even more about my own – and especially what it means to be in the minority. I discovered a new sense of national identity and probably also a new sense of my personal identity.
You will experience change within yourself too, and you will get to know yourself in ways that you might never have thought of. You will grow in your personality and become more mature as you face situations that will challenge you to be more open-minded, more thoughtful, and more aware of certain social issues. There might be difficult moments that you struggle with, that might make you feel guilt because of your own privileges, that might make you question everything you have ever believed in, or that might make you realize how much your upbringing and the culture you were so used to have shaped your own personal vision of reality.
It can be hard at times and you might come to the point where you forget what originally made you decide to take this step. Do not be afraid of tough times, and do not be afraid of homesickness and loneliness. It is very likely that you will experience these feelings and to be honest: it sucks. But it will make you a lot stronger and you will be able to face even harder challenges. Volunteering is far from easy and always comfortable, but it is so worth it! It is normal that moving to a new place and for me, being foreign, can make you feel uncomfortable and insecure. But sooner than you can now imagine, this once so foreign and different place will feel like home, and that is an incredible feeling.
On your journey, there will be people walking alongside you. Sooner or later, you will have built a whole network of people supporting you. It is likely that you will make friends with people from different cultural, religious, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds. You will experience generosity and kindness beyond your expectations, and you will relearn the importance of friendship. You might question certain relationships back home, and you will for sure cherish and appreciate people and things that you took for granted. Let the love within you pour out to others, and you will realize how blessed and beloved you are!
It will not take long before you become involved in a struggle that is important to you and that you are passionate about. From the beginning of my service, I wrestled with core questions about injustice and inequality. I found it hard at times to acknowledge my own privilege and all the many advantages that come with it. However, I have realized that having negative feelings about things we cannot influence nor change does not help at all. Instead, we should think about what we make of it and how we can make this world a better place by each using the talents we were given. Volunteering is a rewarding experience and you will see that there is no better feeling than being able to help and receive thankfulness. It might be a simple thank-you, it might be smiles and hugs, or it might be tears of sorrow, faith and hope. You will love people with all their flaws and imperfections, as well as with all their vulnerabilities. Your heart will expand widely and I can assure you that that will shift parts within you.
So, be a volunteer and enjoy this very special season of your life. I encourage you to be:
I encourage you to be a V.O.L.U.N.T.E.E.R. with all your heart.
Best wishes and many blessings to you in your ministry,