Wednesday, July 29, 2009

New York New York

Today marks my 6th day in New York City. So far I have remained quite busy and have enjoyed my time. I fell right into looking for an apartment and after three days of looking found one that I think that I will really like. I will be living with 3 strangers - but the place is in a great area, furnished, and is a very reasonable price for the area.

For those of you that don't yet know what I am doing - I am doing AmeriCorps. This was launched as a sort of domestic Peace Corps. More specifically I am a VISTA - which is the part of AmeriCorps that deals exclusively with combating poverty in the US. Some of the links to poverty are loose and some are very clear cut. Regardless, all VISTAs receive a very modest stipend every month for what is officially volunteer work. It is meant to be enough to live on, but is also meant to keep us at the poverty level.

During the next year I will be working full time and making little more than I was making working part time in retail over the past 6 months. We are not allowed to have a second source of income - not selling jewelry we make or babysitting or anything. The idea behind this is so that we may know what it is really like to live on so little money. To struggle to feed ourselves and to not have money for luxuries. I am not convinced that this strategy will work - and I feel as though it is inherently flawed in a lot of ways. (For instance many people are living at home with their parents while doing this or are receiving money from their parents for assistance - why is this OK but not actually working for it?)

It will be a challenge for me, who has never wanted for anything, to constantly be struggling with money. I have taken it on as a personal challenge and I am sure that I will succeed- which might be a problem. I have been very lucky in my life to have a family who has helped and supported me - but also to have one that taught me to handle my money so well. Part of why I have been able to travel as extensively as I have and have never wanted for anything is because of my ability to make the most of what I have and to prioritize my spending.

While I poke fun at myself for having a $10 rule while shopping (I have a hard time paying more than ten dollars for any one item of clothing) it is this rule along with my general abstinence from buying myself little luxuries that has afforded me the ability to travel the world. Occasionally I find myself breaking my rules, and despite the fact that I rather enjoy it, I try to stay on track. There are still so many places I wish to travel and so many things in life that I wish to see and do that will require discipline with my money that I can't bring myself to blow it on a purse or a new pair of jeans.

This discipline I have practiced throughout the years will come in handy over the next year, but without the payoff of a trip! This will probably be hard for me to accept and I will have a hard time truly not being able to buy clothes rather than just preferring not to spend my money on them. There is a huge difference and I'm not quite sure how I will handle it.

The not being able to spend money on food thing will be relatively easy for me. For a while I always ate toast and tea or coffee (made at home) for breakfast and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with some grapes or raisins or something for lunch. I am great about packing my lunch and taking it to work with me and I do enjoy cooking. The problem will be when people ask me to go out with them for dinner or drinks. I am trying to budget in a small amount of money for my entertainment each month and I really, really hope that I pull it off. The first month will be the most interesting for me. I am going to have to learn my way around the city and my new neighborhood- experimenting with grocery stores and coupons and the like to get the most for my money. Being thrifty requires a lot of leg work.

I'm currently participating in my Pre-Service Orientation for AmeriCorps VISTA and am at a hotel in downtown Manhattan with close to 200 other "volunteers" for the upcoming year. We have been trying to "build relationships" and discuss our thoughts on poverty and service in NYC. We all have different opinions, and while I feel that a lot of us have a lot in common I have been caught off guard about a few things and have surely made an ass of myself. I love that people here correct me when I'm wrong about things in America. Being here and interacting with people from all over the US with regard to American problems for once has been really enlightening. I've spent so much time overseas and worrying about America's international agenda that I've failed to learn a lot about what goes on in my own country.

Being in New York is great for me for that reason. I feel that even though I am still in America, NYC is so very different from Florida and Jacksonville in particular that it's sort of like being in a different country. I don't feel as isolated or as far away from home for a lot of reasons - but I definitely notice that I'm out of my element! It's great and I'm excited about learning more about the rest of America!!

I'm truly excited about my upcoming service - and while I'm terrified that I'll do a horrible job or absolutely hate my organization or my coworkers or just be totally unprepared and overwhelmed in every way possible - I can't wait to start. I've always wanted to dedicate myself to helping others in one way or another and I am finally getting that chance. Hopefully I am not disappointed.

I'll update more later - I know this is already really long. Wish me luck and come visit me in NYC!!

1 comment:

Allison said...

Camille Hartmann! I admire you for this. How did you find out about this project? Just the pure learning experience of this event makes me wish I could do it too. Going through the education program at UF has really raised my curiosity about poverty and how to brake the cycle of it and help students realize ways out of it. Another thing that made me really curious about poverty is learning about programs FDR started that tax dollars pay for to help with the great depression. I am truly fascinated with what you are doing. I know you can do it and learn so much from it. I look forward to reading your documentation of this upcoming year.