Thursday, December 13, 2012


In this post Rachel, NC Campus Compact VISTA Leader , reflects on her experiences attending two consecutive Pre-Service Orientation events.

Every AmeriCorps volunteer goes through a week of off-site training called Pre-Service Orientation, or PSO. The Corporation sends you to a hotel where you spend twenty-four hours a day surrounded by fellow VISTAs.

In my case, I attended regular PSO and then VISTA Leader training. I spent two weeks in Lombard, IL (a suburb of Chicago) surrounded by some of the most dedicated, hardworking, selfless people I've ever met.

During PSO we talked about what it means to be a VISTA. What it looks and feels like to be on call as a volunteer 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We looked at what we’re giving up, what we’re gaining, and why we’re all taking a year (or more) of our lives to engage in service.

We discussed our projects, exchanged ideas, and connected with our fellow volunteers. Those of us doing a second, third, or even fourth year of service traded war stories, and passed along techniques for living on an extremely restricted budget.

We examined our privilege, our prejudices, and our biases. We had difficult conversations about race, gender, and poverty. We were honest. We learned and grew, and then we all went our separate ways.

I came back the next week for VISTA Leader Orientation. The group was smaller this time, 40 people instead of the almost 200 of the previous training. Most of the leaders I met had already started their service, many had already encountered some of the challenges we would later discuss in small groups. It was a quieter session, less like a pep rally and more like being part of a highly motivated think tank.

Sessions were dedicated to problem solving, mediating conflict, and addressing specific scenarios common to the VISTA Leader experience. In one group we spent several hours constructing a year-long communications plan to be used by leaders who worked with VISTAs at a distance (much like the Campus Compact model).

Once again, on a chilly Friday afternoon, we all went our separate ways. Then, a few days later I was reading the enthusiastic tweets and facebook status messages from my new friends and one of them posted simply, “#cultureshock.”

That’s when I realized how hard it can be coming back to the “real world” after a week or two of AmeriCorps immersion. The world we come back to is full of the very real, seemingly insurmountable problems we discussed at training. It’s uncomfortable. But that feeling of discomfort is important. It is that feeling which pushes us to make change. It motivates us to serve.

I came away from training with new friends, new resources, and a renewed sense of purpose. Training reminded me why I’m doing this and that I’m not alone. I’m ready to work. I’m ready to serve.