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Knowing that I would only be in San Francisco working at Larkin St. Youth Services for a short 8 weeks made me nervous from the start of the program. I did not know what to expect in regards to how the clients would view me and the other Duke students since we so suddenly entered their lives and then equally abruptly leave them 8 weeks later.

At Larkin St., I work at one of the organization’s learning centers, specifically the Healthcare Learning Center. This is a several month long, intensive program that demands a lot out of the clients enrolled. Perhaps most importantly, it provides a consistent positive force in the lives of the clients. The main part of my work is facilitating the lessons at the learning center and creating my own lesson plans to teach interesting topics. However, the part of my day to day that is most important to me is the conversations with clients.

In the first few weeks, many of the clients in the Healthcare Learning Center were pretty reserved and quiet. As an intern, I did not expect any of them to open up to me or to the other Duke students considering how we just jumped into their lives so suddenly. Another aspect of the relationship with the clients that is difficult is the age difference. All of the clients are older than me and the other Duke intern working at the Healthcare Learning Center. At first, I was concerned that this would negatively affect how the clients viewed me. I was already unsure how the clients would react to the presence of a college student from across the country. Being younger than the clients, I thought they might not even respect me. How could I help them in any way if I was not even their age, let alone be able to relate to their experiences?

After a few weeks of cautious interactions with the clients, things began to change after a day-long team-building field trip. Since then, I have become more comfortable around the clients and the clients have become more comfortable with my presence in the learning center. This is one reason I enjoy specifically working at the learning center because we work with the same small group of clients every day. When clients started telling me more about their personal struggles, I felt honored that they would share some of the unpleasant details of their life with me. I have begun to realize that the clients enjoy interacting with other young people their age rather than fail to respect me (due to my age) as I first feared might happen.

My excitement that I was finally building consistent relationships with the clients was naturally paralleled by the disheartenment I felt after hearing what some clients have experienced in their lives. Nevertheless, the connections I am making with the clients feels much more important to me than a short conversation in between lessons or during lunch. It saddens me though that in just over three weeks we will depart from their lives and won’t truly know if our connections had any real positive impact.