Journey to Service

By: Hannah Isakowitz, Senior at The Ohio State University

I moved into my dorm on a Saturday for my freshman year of college at Ohio State. I was terrified and confused and ready all at the same time. On Sunday, my two new stranger roommates and I went to the Student Involvement Fair, where over 1,400 student organizations gave us a peppy hello and a flyer. It was overwhelming to say the least. One of my roommates, Kali, trailed behind a little bit, so I went to see what she was looking at. It turned out to be GIVE Volunteers, an organization that does service trips all over the world. I thought it sounded nice, but certainly too adventurous for me. I had never travelled without my family, let alone to the opposite end of the Earth to a rural village. I wasn’t a hiker or a manual worker or a tree hugger. Everything I thought I was supposed to be, I wasn’t. I walked away.

A few days later, Kali brought it up again. She had already paid her deposit to go to Thailand and Laos for a month. Something about the excitement in her eyes made me feel like this was possible for me, too. And so, the adventure begins…

Almost 9 months later, I found myself on a 16-hour flight to Chiang Mai, Thailand. Panicked. What if I hated it and I was stuck for a month? What if this organization doesn’t align with my ethics?  Will I make any friends? Am I too out-of-shape? My journal from that day is filled with questions like these. But of course, the moment I arrived in a brand-new space and was greeted with smiling faces, all of those worries disintegrated. That month was life-changing. As a team, we overcame language barriers, made amazing friendships, worked harder than ever, laughed, and importantly, asked some really big questions. I was so inspired – but I knew this was only the beginning.

Since that first leap of faith, I returned to Thailand the following summer for 2 more months of farming and teaching. I went down to the Gulf Coast for winter break with my school and had the privilege of meeting Steve. Fifty of us worked hard together on projects via connections he made and were eager to return home and hear his stories at dinner each night. Every trip, in its own unique way made me feel more connected to a greater purpose. Before I knew it, I had gone from “not adventurous enough” to an experienced leader of outdoor service and adventure – someone with a Wilderness First Aid certification and more travel and hiking gear than I even knew existed. Every expectation of myself, of the people I met and served, and of the reality of service had been shattered.

On the Saturday I moved into my dorm at Ohio State, I had no idea this would be how I spent my life in college. I had no idea how much I actually loved hiking and manual labor. These trips didn’t just give me a fun and meaningful experience for the time I was there, they helped me see what was already inside me all along. Enough curiosity and commitment for a lifetime, and a heart of service.

I have three pieces of advice for anyone thinking about going on a service trip for the first time. First, the only expectation you can have of any service experience is that you will always receive more than you will give. Second, pack your curiosity. Ask more questions and learn more about your fellow humans. Third, don’t hold yourself back. Everyone has a spirit of adventure and a heart of service. Find yours.