On a lunch break between classes, I walked over to Dinkytown for some pizza slices. In between the pizza shop and grabbing cigarettes, I saw a young man sitting on a hiking backpack holding a cardboard sign. I was intrigued; he didn’t fit any of my assumptions about “what homeless people look like.” Curious, I offered him the remainder of my pizza and started chatting; “I rode here from Chicago on a freight train,” he told me.
With this, my jaw dropped; I thought freight train hopping was something from the movies. It was certainly in my cultural lexicon, but not as a living practice. Yet here sat a young, slightly dirty KID who said he had literally done it the previous day. Combined with my love of travel, my desire to see the west coast, and my lack of direction in school at the time, I was sucked in. I begged him to show me the ropes.
Little did I know that this adventure would consume the majority of my 20s, take me all around the country via rail and thumb, introduce me to countless friends, and help me find the confidence to sing and play guitar (and make money while doing so!). But those are stories for another time; what I ALSO didn’t know was that I would fall in love with that lifestyle so completely that it would become extremely difficult to return to my academic pursuits, look for a career path, and re-enter “normal society.”
I dropped out of University of Minnesota to travel for awhile; after a couple of years, however, I figured that having 110 credits and no degree was probably a little silly and decided to finish up. I transferred to Western Michigan University where, after three semesters (I was only allowed to transfer 90 credits), I graduated in 2014 with a BA in Cultural Anthropology. At this point, I probably should have been looking at internships or jobs, fostering closer relationships with professors whose classes I really enjoyed as potential mentors, and teasing out more of what I wanted to do with my life. Alas, the road was still calling me, and, while I knew I wanted to be involved in some sort of social justice work, I couldn’t see a clear path to creating a career around it.
I spent so much time wandering aimlessly that, for a while, it felt as if I’d never break free of that lifestyle. My last “big hurrah” was hitch-hiking all the way to Alaska, from June to September of 2016. After that amazing trip, I attempted to settle down in Olympia, Washington. However, trying to get off the street when you’re living out of a backpack and haven’t had a job on your resume in over two years is a little difficult. Eventually, I took off for Austin, Texas, where I had a friend who was working a renaissance fair and said he could get me a job.
I made it to Amarillo, most of the way to my destination, within a couple of weeks, but there, I fell from a train and broke my heel. This meant I was unable to walk for months, so my parents, very graciously, bought me a plane ticket back home to Michigan. I ultimately landed in Lansing, where my mom lives. Once I was finally able to walk again, I spent two years delivering pizzas, all while looking for opportunities to get back into some sort of field that would allow me to work to make the world better. During this time, I also did a little bit of volunteer work, helping organize and attending some protests and being fairly involved in running Lansing Food Not Bombs. Finally, I discovered AmeriCorps. That brings me to where I am now.
I’m barely two months into my term of service, but I’ve already gained invaluable experience in my position with the Community-AID lab. I’ve finally been able to reenter the workforce in a way that is meaningful to me and do work that connects some of my passions and skills. I don’t have a clear picture of where I will go when this year is over. However, this experience in and of itself is transformative. After spending so much time disconnected from academic pursuits, it’s refreshing to be in an environment where people are passionate about making the world better, and are using their skills and knowledge to actualize that vision.
I honestly can’t even remember if I’d heard of community psychology prior to starting this position. My limited experience with it so far, however, has been very exciting. It speaks to many of my interests from cultural anthropology, but seems even more engaged in actually trying to implement solutions to problems, rather than merely observing and documenting them. I’m very excited to see where the coming year will lead me, as I continue doing work that I find meaningful and connecting with great people.