Sacrifice and Service by Nathan Switchenko
“What’s it going to be then, eh?” was a question I often asked myself after I graduated college-though I had a rather less poetic retort. This uncertainty, during the height of Covid lockdowns, soon reached a head, and pushed me into moving a thousand miles to a state I had hitherto never set foot to serve as an underpaid AmeriCorps VISTA member. Other factors such as a confluence of friends serving or entering service also helped, but the root of my interest was in a desire to prevent other college graduates from feeling the same uncertainty I did.
The Experiential Learning and Career Success (ELCS) office’s mission matched my own goal: assisting students with participating in experiential learning (internships, service learning, research, etc.) such that they might gain valuable career experience while they are a student, so it seemed like a natural choice for me. As a VISTA I build capacity-I don’t perform direct service, but rather facilitate it by building and expanding upon an institution’s capacity to do so. In my time serving with the ELCS office at the University of Montana, I have built capacity in a number of ways: primarily by working with students to create testimonials about their experiential learning opportunities-internships and volunteering mainly, which we use to demonstrate the importance of experiential learning to other students; by coordinating faculty discussion groups, where they discussed the most effective ways to integrate experiential learning into their curriculum; and also by helping run our numerous career fairs, where students can explore various internship and post-graduation opportunities.
Service has not been without sacrifice-if indeed such a thing is possible. The thousand miles separating me from my friends and family has unsurprisingly been difficult to deal with, and I have discovered firsthand the challenge of making friends as an adult, especially in a town as cliquey as Missoula. That said, I have managed, and the other often-difficult aspects of service have been rather easy for me to manage-eating on a budget has come naturally to me (it has even helped me lose weight!), and my frugal nature is well suited to the AmeriCorps lifestyle. The generosity of my coworkers and the MTCC office should also be mentioned, as they have helped me on numerous occasions.
This has also been an incredible learning opportunity for me: beyond being exposed to a new community, I have obtained a plethora of knowledge about career readiness that I would not have gained otherwise, knowledge I wish I had been given when I was a curious, uncertain student.
- Burgess, Anthony. A ClockWork Orange. New York: Norton, 2001