Preparation is important for everything we do in life.  When you are prepared for an event, you perform better and get more out of it.  Whether it is taking a test, playing in a big soccer game, going to the prom, or going on vacation, we all take time to prepare for the occasion.  Just as all of these things, service requires preparation too.  It is a mental preparation—the kind you need when embarking upon a new journey.  So, in preparation for this summer’s journey, we ask you to consider the following things:

Ask yourself

1. What do you hope you will gain from this experience?
2. How much are you truly willing to give to the experience?
3. Why did you choose a service trip?
4. What does community service mean to you?
5. Can you try to leave expectations at home and instead come with an open mind and heart?

Get in shape

VISIONS is physically demanding.  While we may not be hiking 20 miles each day, we do work hard. And we play hard too. Whether rock climbing, backpacking, snorkeling, or kayaking, we fully engage in all our temporary summer home has to offer.

Practice your language skills

If your program is a language immersion experience, start getting in the spirit now. Put aside any shyness you might feel about using the language. Review verb tenses, common phrases, whatever helps you to start thinking in the language. Start now to cast off worries about ‘saying something wrong’ and instead think in terms of learning as you go. The relationships you form with local people will be far more meaningful if you can communicate with them in their own language.

Focus on community

Practice putting your personal desires aside in favor of the bigger picture. Maybe there’s something your parents need done around the house. Instead of text messaging a friend, do the ‘chore’ first and touch base with your friends after. Silly as this exercise seems, VISIONS is all about teamwork and community on so many levels. There’s the community of VISIONS participants and staff— living closely together, sharing meals, chores, work, and play. We work to respect one another and help each other. And there’s the wider community—the program site itself where the culture and norms will be different from your own. You will need to be sensitive to and respectful of these differences, and may even need to alter your behavior.

Open your mind

Very soon you will become part of a global community. While you know intellectually that life is very different in other parts of the world, experiencing this difference may take some adjustment. Some things may surprise and startle you. Promise yourself to suspend judgment. Try to step back and take it all in.

Practice service

Whether it is an organized effort with a community group, or by a simple gesture for an elderly neighbor, practice giving.  Giving of ourselves makes us feel good.  Helping other people is rewarding to all parties involved.  Start now—it is addictive!

Let go of all your expectations and prepare to have the summer of a lifetime!

VISIONS in The New York Times