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Who am I serving?

| Thursday, October 16, 2014

I remember in high school there was a two-week summer period during which it seemed every person and his twice-removed grandma went on a service trip to (insert Central American country here). I remember countless Instagram and Facebook posts of people lovingly holding orphans in their arms or smiling at sweet, old indigenous women and men. I remember not being able to decide whether it was okay to cringe at these picture because I couldn’t decide if they were tasteless or thoughtful.

It wasn’t as if those people were trying to be tasteless; it was more likely that they were thrilled about the time they had spent in that country, and they wanted to share it with the rest of the world.

I couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that lingered, however. It wasn’t that I felt service shouldn’t be publicized, but I thought it was inappropriate when it seemed all about gaining attention.

It makes me question my own intentions before I leave for the immersion part of my Appalachia seminar over fall break. Through the Center for Social Concerns, I will be traveling to Vanceburg, Kentucky, to serve at Glenmary Farms.

On one hand, I have never been more excited to travel to the Appalachia region, which I have been learning about for the past five weeks; on the other hand, I am apprehensive. I am apprehensive because I don’t know my true intentions for going on this trip. Of course, I want to do service, which is why I applied in the first place.

But I can’t help but wonder: who am I really serving? Am I serving the people of the region, or am I serving myself? Am I serving myself because doing service gives me a feeling of self-satisfaction? Am I serving others to the best of my ability to be truly selfless?

Or does selflessness in service not matter as much as it seems to?

I don’t know the answer yet; I probably still will not know the answer when I return, as a week is an incredibly short amount of time when doing service. It is not enough time to understand a region. And, without a full understanding of the region, I won’t actually know the impact of my actions.

It well may be that I spend my entire life trying to figure out the real purpose behind the service I take on. It well may be that selflessness in service is a naïve and dated idea and that good service heavily involves the person doing it because of self-reflection and dedication.

By Susan Zhu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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