I am currently on the plane to Newark to attend National Orientation at Stony Point, New York. This YAV year is here! (The exclamation point denotes both excitement and fear). Before beginning the yearlong commitment, Tanner and I wanted to spend time with family, so we planned a few weeks between moving out of our apartment in San Antonio and the beginning of orientation for just that. I had the privilege of spending a few weeks with my family in Denver and Wyoming. I saw close and extended family. I also attended church and some community events in my small hometown. With all of these interactions came small talk. I’m not opposed to small talk or catching up with family members and acquaintances, but I quickly realized that YAV does not fit easily into a small talk-type conversation. Having explained YAV probably fifty different times in the last few days and weeks, I think I have some ideas as to why talking about it can be a challenge.
Difficult to Capture
Common small talk questions included: “Where are you living now?” “What are you up to?” I couldn’t answer either of those without mentioning YAV. I usually called it a “Year of Service” or a “Volunteer Year.” Sometimes I used the word mission. My hesitation in outright calling it a mission is a fear of being associated with potentially negative preconceived notions about mission work, especially as they relate to colonization. I am not evangelizing. I am not saving anyone. I am not giving any answers. I am simply going to work alongside people and to be part of a program that is already in place and doing quite well without me.
It was also difficult to succinctly explain what all this year will entail. (I don’t even know what all it will entail!) More than a service year, the YAV year also focuses on intentional Christian community, simple living, and vocational discernment. These core tenants of the program are very exciting to me, but it was hard to express that. Some people had difficulty understanding why I would chose to live in a house with strangers and not have a car for a year. (And when I type it out like that, I begin to wonder too!)
Sometimes explaining all of this was sufficient for the person(s) on the other end of the conversation. In many cases, they would launch into talking about their personal experiences in Arizona. I liked that because once they began talking about themselves, I was off the hook. Some conversations, though, ended with my most dreaded question: “What are you doing after?” While a very reasonable question, it gave me anxiety every time I heard it because I don’t know the answer. For the first time in my whole life, I do not have a clear career plan. I would respond to this question by saying that I want to be open to opportunities as they arise, mentioning that lots of YAVs end up staying in their placement cities and sometimes are even offered positions at their partner organizations. While all this is true, I still have deep-seeded fears that the year will come and go, and I may not be any closer to knowing my next step. The vocational discernment part of the program is more attractive to me now than ever.
The final reason that I found small talk conversations about YAV to be difficult is that there is so much that I do not know. I did not realize how much I did not know until I was engaged in particularly inquisitive conversations. I definitely could have reached out to my site coordinator more for specific info, but I know I will get it eventually, and the unknown can be fun. As I am about to begin a week of national orientation, followed by a week of local orientation in Tucson, I am sure that many of questions will be answered, and hopefully, some of my doubts addressed.