An Independent School • Grades 5-12

by Lelan B. '19 

Being 17 years old means that lessons sometimes elude me at first go around. For example, I always knew that sharing is caring, but I really only demonstrated it when it benefited me, or how I am just beginning to really comprehend that the energy you put out is the energy you’ll receive in any given situation. However, one belief that I have almost always been accustomed to is that change is scary, and it probably always will be.

As I embarked on this four-week GSL homestay experience, I knew I was diving deeply into waters of change - whether it be leaving behind the comfort of my only child lifestyle in exchange for an older and younger brother, or replacing my exercise routines with either playing soccer, volleyball, or working out every night with the kids. After two weeks, I finally began to feel that I had wrestled my previous contempt for change to the ground. The retreat to recognize the halfway point was time for me to reflect and realize I had settled into a new groove.

It would go like this: after a jam-packed day of service, jokes, and new lessons, we would be told to bring out our journals so we could write a plan for the next day. It would look roughly like this:

8 a.m. - Arrive at the mayor’s office to work on the website design
12 p.m. - Eat lunch with host families
2 p.m. - Go back to the Mayor’s to reconvene
3 p.m. - Go to dance lesson
5 p.m. - Head home

Nevertheless, our first day back from the retreat, turned out to be different. We were in our second hour of website work when, during our break, we were told that our families had just finished collecting materials that we would need to make Heis for a fruit-carrying competition for that afternoon. This meant that we had to pause our website work for the day. This really started to disorient me because I had gotten so used to a pattern that I could abide by. Back in Seattle, it feels as though everything around you is moving so quickly that if you don’t have a schedule or routine, you won’t be able to function in the city. So, inadvertently, my body had adjusted itself to a schedule even though I knew that I was now on island time, leading me to feeling confused.

On Thursday, we were given an article to read in four different groups about what service work truly means. A group that was in charge of reporting back on the different attitudes involved in service work described “the collaborative attitude.” They defined it as “listening to a need or want, and seeing it through.” The students referred to Monday’s shift in schedule as an example of our use of the collaborative attitude. By hearing what the community wanted for our time that day, although a shift from the original plan, we followed through, wore our heis proudly and boldly participated in a contest new to all of us. As I processed this perspective, I realized that when our plans for the day change, we are being exposed to new and unique aspects of Polynesian culture. Sometimes, we participate in competitions for the Heiva, and other times we spend time together in activities with the host families. In my discomfort due to schedule changes, I hadn’t realized yet that our group being willing to go and engage with these events were still part of our service to become ambassadors of their authentic Polynesian culture.

Although change still challenges me, I am realizing how accepting change can lead to more impactful service work. Service doesn’t mean that you come to a community with a goal you want to accomplish and stick to it regardless of the signals the community sends you; it means that you listen to those that are in need of the service and do whatever you can to fulfill that. Whether it is building a website or participating in a race carrying 20 kilos of bananas, if it is what the people have asked for, it’s what they should receive. And look at that: another lesson under my belt and not over my head!