Ten weeks in and counting

It’s been ten and a half weeks since this program started. That’s a really strange thing for me to reflect on knowing that ten and a half weeks in would typically be midway through round one projects. However, here I am, approaching week eleven of Corps Training Institute, still on campus, never having done a single day of round one projects.

In AmeriCorps, we use an array of lingo to describe specific phenomenons that only AmeriCorps people can really understand. AmeriTime has become my favorite because nothing is ever according to your own clock. You’re constantly on AmeriTime.

Two weeks of AmeriTime is roughly, so I deem, equivalent to two months of Real Time. Due to the intensity of this program, people approach boundaries much quicker and time feels much longer. So even though I’ve only been in Sacramento for two weeks, there are times where I feel like I have been here for months.

In this way, Vinton has become a very distant memory in my mind. It doesn’t feel like it was only two and half weeks ago that I was getting up at 4:30 a.m for a room check, saying goodbye to Hickory Six, and jumping in a van with sixteen others to come to California. In a lot of ways I don’t want to let go of that part of my life because of the profound impact it had on me over the past few months, but in a lot of ways adjusting here is made much harder by trying to hold onto Vinton.

One clear example is the lack of understanding from others about what it’s like to separate from your team and class and be forced into another so quickly. Last night I went to the bar with other transferred FEMA Corps members. We met two girls while there who vocalized this lack of understanding so well. They accused us of being exclusive and said that we should just let go of that part of our life and act like it never happened.

In my own frustration, I removed myself from the conversation knowing that they just don’t understand, and are drunk. I’m sure in any other scenario I could grow to like these people, but their lack of understanding for me served as a barrier for us to build a relationship. I want to have a balance of keeping Vinton and learning to move forward in Sacramento, but to some people outside of this FEMA Corps bubble, they can’t understand why we won’t easily and positively jump into new relationships so quickly on typical AmeriTime. We’ve taken to explaining it as a really bad breakup, and in a lot of ways it is. My trust towards new people and my abilities to accept new relationships has been broken. It’s something I’m slowly rebuilding in this strangely unique environment where the pace at times is a little too quick for me.

That lack of understanding has caused problems elsewhere for me as well. I’ve moved to a point where I don’t take things personally though because I know that the people here don’t know me just as much as I haven’t given them the chance to know me. People can’t make judgments of my character when I haven’t given them the opportunity to learn who I am, and their perceptions of what I’m thinking and feeling are likely just projections of what their thinking themselves. These are just some of the usual struggles that corps members address in the AmeriBubble, and for me their coming a lot sooner then they will for most. However, I think at some point in time this year, almost everyone will deal with the same difficulties in identities that I’m struggling with now. This environment makes you confront who you are and your actions, and I would be surprised to find someone who won’t encounter that experience at least once this year.

I realized a while ago that a lot of how I take this year is going to be dependent on my attitude, which has fluctuated a lot since I arrived. There are deep differences between FEMA Corps and NCCC, a lot of which are not easy to adjust to. I can feel it getting progressively easier, though, and it’s my genuine hope that I’m starting to reach that turning point where this year will become something I excel in and not something I get by in.

One thing that has helped is knowing how close we are to serving. We found out our round one projects last week and I’m really excited about the work. I will be living in Petaluma, California and working in Novato doing wetland restoration and seed transplanting for six weeks. The location is great; it’s close to San Francisco but will still have the Northern California forested feel that I love. Our housing will be a KOA, which generally the camper in me would hate. However, for six weeks when typically housing can be much less accommodating, a KOA sounds like a good experience for my team and I.

Another thing that has really helped change my attitude is my new found motivation. We were assigned our specialty roles and had training for them earlier this week, which gave me extra work to do to stay busy. The staff also started talking about the Fire Management Team, which is something I’m really interested in doing.

The FMT is a composite team that works together during round three and four, as well as an extension that will cause me to be serving for an actual full year (August 2014-August 2015). The application process requires a written segment and a physical pack test, which is a 3-mile walk in less than 45 minutes with 45 pounds on your back. Twenty applicants are chosen, including two Team Leaders. Everyone becomes certified as wildland fire fighters and does environmental work in a forest in Northern California, unless they are called out to assist with a fire disaster. The team sounds really challenging, which is one of the main reasons why I want to be a part of it.

As for now, I have two weeks left of CTI before I’m finally sent out on round one. Next week, we’ll be doing a Mini-SPIKE to Mendocino and working at a camp improving facilities and bonding more as a unit and team. I’ll keep you all updated as life moves forward!

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