As my time at DukeEngage San Francisco comes to a close, I have tried to think about the takeaways I have gotten from this program. How has it changed me, and how will I use what I have learned in future aspects of my life? My experience was definitely different than the majority of my peers: no direct client interaction. Because of this, I have asked myself how I came to understand the effects of homelessness in the city and how it affects those going through it. Have I really been able to grasp what it means? Did I gain the experience that I expected to have as a whole? My answer to that question is yes, and no.
I say yes because I feel like my interactions with the homeless has changed significantly. Seeing people on the street in my hometown, it would have been easy to just walk past someone who was asking for change, or ignore their attempts to talk to me. But being here has allowed me to understand humanity a bit better. To think about a person’s experiences and why they go through what they go through.
By a first glance, you would never know the circumstances in a persons life, and it is so easy to assume a person is at fault for their own situation. But you never know until you talk to someone. Until you take the time to listen and learn. Until you humble yourself and realize how talented, smart, genuine and amazing people are, but realize that circumstance weren’t in their favor. I have had unexpected conversations with people since I’ve been here- on the street, and even on the bus coming back from work. Just showing that someone else’s experience is valid makes a world of difference- and you never know what way you have helped them.
I also say yes because of the relationships I have been able to form with the people in my workspace. Although that client interaction is missing in a large extent, the interaction between my coworkers isn’t. I have been able to get to know them, talk with them and laugh with them. We could talk not only about work with them, but about life and the things that are going on with me, and the things I’ve enjoyed while being in San Francisco.
Building those bonds have been so important to me, and I felt like I was a part of the team. I can see how the work of At the Crossroads means so much to everyone who is a part of the organization, and I am grateful for the opportunity to be in their workspace and to be embraced, even though I’ve only been here a short time. My work here was important to them, and it made me realize the amount of work that goes into running a non profit organization and how important it is to have organizations like ATC. I will definitely be back to visit in the future!
Now, I say no because I believe I have so much more to learn about myself, the effects of homelessness, and the world around me. I do wish I could’ve had the experience of feeling like I’m making a direct impact on someone’s life. The money I helped raised for ATC helps the counselors do just that, but I did long to understand the job that my peers at Larkin Street did on a daily basis. I wish I had more time in San Francisco to get to know the city better and take advantage of all it has to offer. I wish I had more time to grow and work on myself, and take more time out for self care. Things were busy pretty much all the time, and I feel like I should have given myself more time to digest everything that I was feeling and experiencing.
However, it would be unrealisitic of me to expect my life and mindset to make a complete 180 in eight short weeks. I feel like I’ve gotten the foundation that I need to start making practical changes and to think more critically as my life moves forward, which I think is the point of all of this. DukeEngage is definitely an experience that I will never forget.