By Christina Stuart, AmeriCorps member serving at Curley K-8 School

Surprises tend to be bittersweet. Throughout the 10 months of service, there have been quite a few of them. Although I may have been shocked at first (see above team photo from the start of the year) I know that these surprises are really lessons in disguise. Here are 5 surprises (or lessons) from my service.

1. Time seems to speed up. Before my year of service with City Year, I volunteered for no more than one day at a time. Now, as an AmeriCorps member with City Year Boston, I serve for about 10 hours, 5 days a week. My days are packed with welcoming students with cheers and hi-fives during morning greeting, supporting 25 students in the classroom during the day, and helping students complete their homework during after school. By the time I leave service at the end of the day, I can barely remember what I did in the morning. Easily, one week of service can feel like a month has gone by.

2. Extrovert or introvert, know thyself. I enjoy being by myself and I feel refreshed from being alone. I am what a lot of people call an introvert. This does not mean that I do not like to serve or be around people. On the contrary, I love serving and giving to others. This year has taught me that as much as I love to help others, I too will get exhausted. Although it may seem that my role is catered for extroverts, I, as an introvert, can still serve with excellence—I just have to remember to find moments to “recharge” during my day.

3. Things are hard, but not impossible. In my day I like structure. I enjoy planning my day with calendars and to-do lists and then watch as I execute each part of my day. Service has taught me that things do not always go as planned; so I need to be flexible. It is difficult for me not knowing the curveballs in my day, but I know that no matter how tough it is, I, with the support of my team, will get through the day just fine.

4. The small things make a difference. Every day I support the students in my classroom; I answer questions, help set goals, discuss behavior, and explain how to use a dictionary. At times it is difficult to see the growth of my students from day to day, but the small things matter. Throughout the year I have done my best to learn the names of students who are not in my classroom. So when I walk down the hallway and say “hello” to students, they smile and say “hello” back. I may not get to have the same opportunity to build close relationships with these students, but I know that I have made some sort of impact.

5. What do you value the most? Since I have a full day of service, the remaining time in the day is very precious. Service has forced me to reflect about the things I care for the most. For me, I prioritize my health and spending time with friends above everything else. When my time outside of service seems to be so limited, I know how I would prefer to spend my time.

These lessons aren’t ones that I expected to learn when I started this year, but they will stay with me long after graduation. I know they will help me be a "leader for life" in my future career path.

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