Floating and Stinging and Traveling

On March 10 I woke up at 3am, showered, packed my duffle bag and a backpack, and drove with my family to the airport for my 6am flight. I ate a banana and some doughnut holes I got the day before, feeling more awake than I anticipated. 

After dropping off my duffle bag (almost missing a step and giving my luggage before it fully cleared), I went up a set of stairs to head toward my terminal. At the top, I saw a woman holding a sign that read “BON VOYAGE”. It was none other than my grandparents Mimi and Pop! Within the sign was a amazing letter sending me off and wishing me good travels (with my grandpa having been a Naval captain, nothing less should have been expected). 

The plane was very small and a lot more packed than I was expecting. We were really crammed in like sardines, and I was thankful for my medical mask layered under my cloth mask (even when it did give me a migraine later on). 

Early morning sky with plane wing outside window

Once I landed in Chicago, a whole half hour early, I rushed over to the other end of the terminal to meet up with some other members I had connected with online. There was a fair size group of us there, and we even found a second group that gathered elsewhere. I was so happy to notice roughly 5-6 other non-young-adults flying, and the rest of the plane seemed to be completely filled with Americorps members. Because of this, our flight to Cedar Rapids, Iowa was a much more enthusiastic one.

The seat next to me had an Americorps member and she and I got to talking the whole ride. We exchanged stories and experiences, and come to find out that night we were on the same team!

layers of clouds and plane wing outside window

Training (CTI) was a whirlwind that felt like it lasted months rather than just 3 weeks. I didn’t have a whole lot of time so I am only just now recounting my experiences, and there sure were a lot of them. The first 10 days on campus in Vinton, Iowa we were in isolation. This basically meant we couldn’t leave campus and could only take off our masks for eating (still socially/physically distant), in our dorm rooms, and showering/brushing teeth. I got to spend a lot of time with my wonderful roommate, Autumn, so that was a major plus! I also knew a surprising amount of people from that one groupchat I had made back in October/November of 2020. There were people saying hi to me and catching up in person that I had been chatting with digitally for months, which funnily enough made me feel popular for the first time ever. 

The weather in Iowa varied widely while we were there, ranging from sunny and warm to snow. One thing that was often consistent was the perpetual WIND. It seemed like a huge outdoor fan was left on, and sometimes as such a high speed that I could lean forward while standing and not fall. At one point, it was sunny and beautiful with the wind feeling nice for once. I decided to use some rare spare time I had to lay outside in the grass and soak up the sun and listen to the wind in the trees. There was a little rustling at one point, and I opened my eyes to see a whole other team of people laying around me! Apparently they had looked out a window and saw me laying there and decided to join in and soak up the sun together. 

Before entering the program I was beyond worried that I would not have a cohesive team. The team that I was placed on, Maple 6, pushed all those worries aside. We started out a team of 8, and after one member decided to leave the program for personal reasons we are at 7. Each one of my teammates is someone I am so happy to have on my team. I know I know, that sounds like a load of fluff, but it’s honestly true. We blend so well together since we’re all a little bit nerdy with plenty of quirks to go around (in the best way possible). 

Our team went through some challenges for sure. Because of covid, every team was given their own kitchen on campus where we could be together without masks (once we were medically cleared, of course). Our team got the short straw and was given a room in the Team Leader dorms that wasn’t fully built to be a kitchen. We set off the fire alarm the first day of cooking… BUT we made it into a fun picnic afterwards by eating our tacos outside together on blankets. To put it succinctly, that was one of many lessons we learned about being adaptable and making the most of whatever hardships we come across. 

A special shoutout goes to my team leader, Jake. They put together the cutest scavenger hunt/puzzle/game for us to find out our rep roles, AKA our individual jobs we hold within our team. We had to wait a minute for them to get a head start from our dorm, we deciphered a clue to read a paper, and then run to the auditorium. There, we found balloons with our names on them and clues to where our puzzle was hidden. Once solved, we all went through and learned what each of our roles were. One of my roles was the Service Learning Initiator, for which I’d be working with all my teammates on weekly reflections about the impact our work is having on the greater community.

We also learned that our first project didn’t have any specific details we knew yet, other than the fact that we would be working with FEMA on a covid vaccination site! 

One weekend we got some Independent Service Project (ISP) hours by working at a community garden. We helped them recover from the 2020 derecho Iowa went through by setting up a greenhouse tarp (a feat that took at least a dozen people and a couple hours), raking leaves, and organizing lumber. While raking leaves, I found pokémon stickers that my little brothers were very jealous of. My team was so excited to finally get to do physical work that the mud that caked our shoes and the chill that settled in our fingers didn’t bother us in the slightest. 

After weeks of long power-points going over the rules of Americorps, navigating underground tunnels between most of the campus buildings, various safety trainings, van driving practice, and lots of team bonding, we graduated. We packed, socially distanced, into the gym for our induction ceremony. I wore my “AmeriTux” and tried not to freeze in the cold gym as my family watched the livestream of the event on Facebook. My team’s chant “Float like a butterfly sting like a bee, Maappllee SIX!” stemmed from our team leader’s love for butterflies and very oddly tied closely with our first round project (more on that in my next post, whenever that come out). 

That’s about all for CTI reflection and for Vinton, Iowa! I bid so-long to campus on April 2nd, after a non-joking April Fools Day Scare that our start date might be pushed back (yet again). Since then, I’ve been in KENTUCKY of all places, but more on that later!

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