J. Said

August 24, 2012 § 1 Comment

I have an announcement: I leave for France in a week. I’ll spend a little more than two weeks at the foot of the Alps, doing odd jobs for a small family. Then I’m off to Brittany to milk goats.

I thought I would stay in Sweden longer. Three weeks in all. I struggled with the decision to depart my current post early. But I don’t see any point in staying if I can’t communicate openly with my hosts and get what I need out of the experience.

In many ways, this volunteer experience has shaped up to be more disappointing than the one I had in Denmark. At least in Denmark I felt challenged. I learned something new every day. In Sweden, all I’ve done is pick tomatoes and stuff myself with sweets.

I’ll have more to say about this soon. I haven’t found the right words yet.

Now I’d like to take a moment to share a story from the beginning of my trip. I think about this story a lot.

I met someone on my first day in Europe. I’ll call him J.

J. and I sat across the aisle from each other on a flight from London to Stockholm. We got to chatting about our travel plans. He was headed up to the Arctic Circle the following evening to camp with friends. I was traveling Denmark to work on a farm.

J. didn’t have a place to spend the night in Stockholm. I told him I’d reserved a bed in a centrally located hostel and suggested that he tag along to see if they had any vacancy. He agreed.

We got lost within minutes of arriving at Stockholm’s Central Station. We asked many people for directions, including two homeless men, a couple of chic French girls, two Aussie tourists, and an ex-Peace Corps worker.

We’d only been a couple of blocks away from the hostel the entire time. I checked in, and he was able to get a bed of his own for the night. That’s when we parted ways.

I keep turning over in my mind what J. said to me when I told him about the kind of work I planned on doing in Denmark. We were still on board the plane when I explained to him my interests. He told me about an acquaintance of his that did more or less the same thing. This individual’s hosts, J. said, often made him feel petty and inferior. The work itself was also physically demanding.

Though in the end, J. reassured me, this person thought the experience was completely worthwhile.

How was I supposed to know that this was how my first two volunteer positions would play out? Even if I did feel petty and inferior at times myself, I’m not bitter. I’m extremely grateful for the experiences I’ve had on my trip so far.

I often thought to myself as I worked on that first farm in Denmark, “This will probably be one of the coolest things I ever do.” Oddly enough, I’m beginning to feel the same way about my time in Sweden.


§ One Response to J. Said

  • Douglas Uhlinger says:

    I believe you are right to follow your instincts on these work assignments and locations. This is supposed to be a time of self-discovery and how can you reasonably do that if the vagaries of your initial schedule prevent you from being flexible along the way. If you have a moment, check a phone book in Switzerland for any Uhlingers. That is where my grandfather came from and I believe there are still a lot of Uhlingers in that beautiful if slilghtly uptight country

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