To be honest, I came to San Francisco without expectations. Despite the talks about reeking streets, strong emotions, the “life changing” experiences, and the exciting city of San Francisco, I set lower expectations and assumed that this wasn’t going to be as challenging, moving, or frustrating as the warnings claimed.
I value service and perspective. Although I suppose I’ve always been sheltered and protected somehow, I’ve tried to work with various communities throughout my academic career. Broadly speaking, I wanted to participate in the San Francisco program and work with homeless youth because I wanted to learn more about an often ignored community. I wanted to expand my privileged perspective and spread my new knowledge to my current and future communities. Nevertheless, because I hadn’t been as emotionally invested by my service experiences recently, I secretly waved away the idea that I would become immensely impacted by my experience here. I was wrong, and I didn’t expect the weight to hit so quickly.
One of the projects I’m doing at Larkin Street is the GED program which helps the clients pass the test for a high school diploma equivalency. A few days ago, I sat next to a client who repeatedly turned to her friend and aggressively whispered about how smart all the interns were. She would look at me do some of the math problems and call herself stupid.
I paused for a few seconds. Suddenly, I questioned: Is me being a tutor here perhaps more harmful than beneficial? I am not much older and most of the times younger than most of the youth. Although I am happy to be here and will gladly do work that can help the youth, I was reminded that in certain settings my privilege may make the youth feel like a lesser human being. I’ve always had the idea in mind, but I truly felt it at that moment. Whenever we do GED debriefs or any reflective talk, I often feel a churning weight in my stomach from discomfort. I’m figuring out how to handle my privilege and my place with the clients, my fellow Dukies here, the staff, and their places in my mind. I’m still pondering about how to handle these thoughts.
A week ago, while I was working on another project on the computer, I overheard a conversation between a retired lawyer, who comes to Larkin to teach poetry and philosophy classes, and a client. There was a poetry class, but client couldn’t attend that day. He was truly disappointed and let the teacher know he would be there the next time. The retired lawyer gave him the papers for today, and they said their farewells. For some reason, I teared up observing this conservation and sat in front of the computer with watery eyes. It was such an ordinary moment, a simple conversation between a teacher and an enthusiastic student, but it wasn’t a conversation I had expected from the youth here who probably have so many other things to worry about. The client was an ordinary, enthusiastic youth – everyone here is an ordinary person who experienced circumstances out of their control. Out of impulse, I attended the class.
Like those two instances, working at Larkin and being in San Francisco has been a mixture of emotions and thoughts. I become frustrated at the system, become inspired by the people here, and reflect about my place in this environment. I get glimpses of each youth’s life and become overwhelmed that those uncomfortable situations are realities.
Nevertheless, I remind myself and hope that my work at Larkin can have some sort of positive impact on the youth here. I hope that I continue to mature and will be able to spread my experiences to my current and future communities.