My first semester of first year, I learned what it felt like to value a volunteer experience. In high school, I had done the requisite community service hours to “look good” for college applications, but never enjoyed the experience because it felt like a chore and I had little interest in spending my Saturday making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for six hours.
In my first weeks at Migrant Aid, I was blown away by the experience of “service learning.” I felt that I was providing a valuable service to Elizabeth as I helped her work through history readings, but I was also deeply challenged every week to learn how to be an effective teacher and to learn about this large migrant community right outside the bubble of U.Va. I also felt that Elizabeth and her family were providing me with an enormous service through their endless positive energy that always started my week right, even with the two hours of travel involved.
The hardest experience I had during that semester when Elizabeth’s mother asked me to translate a letter she had received. As I stumbled through the explanation, I had to tell her that the family’s application to Medicaid had been denied because they had not resided in the United States for five continuous years. The shamed look on her face as she quickly retrieved the letter is something I will never forget. That night deeply affected me, and was the first time that I truly understood the plight of the underprivileged in my own country.