Digging Ditches Rocks

A story about service learning and Freshman College

“You want the rainbow on the end of the planks to face down.” These are the useful words our German friend Phillip guided us with when we began installing boards to build a deck. He explained that laying the planks this way prevents the boards from cupping when it rains. Then Phillip explained to me and one other classmate the plans for that morning, which included building a small deck on the side of one of the houses.

My first thoughts when the site director told us that we would be building a deck that morning were, to say the least, not pleasant. My memories from watching my dad build our back deck were of him baking in the hot sun, a lot of swearing, and nails being strewn all over the place. I would soon come to find my experience building a deck were very similar.

I have to say, one of the biggest misconceptions I had going into this summer was the level of difficulty involved in hammering nails. It’s not easy at first, and this is where much of swearing involved with construction happens. If you use too much power you lose accuracy, and you might miss the nail and hammer the board, or your own finger. Even worse, if you start hitting it at angle the nail will bend and you have to pull it back up.

We went nail by nail, board by board, and once we got into a rhythym we actually started to make some progress and the deck started to come together. The more we hammered, the more I began to enjoy the process. If there’s one thing I learned through Habitat it’s that one of the most satisfying feelings is hammering a nail perfectly into a board. Hitting the nail squarely on its head, then watching it sink into the board, what a rush.

Before I knew it, everyone was standing a couple houses over getting ready to take our group photo then leave. Time flies when you’re having fun. I stood up and looked at the progress we made that morning. We didn’t complete the deck, but we nailed most of the floor boards down, and damn we did a good job. As I was looking over our work I started to understand why people devote so much of their time to volunteer work, especially Habitat for Humanity. It feels good to work with your hands. Building and working on different parts of a house gave me a sense of accomplishment once we were done, and it was cool to learn something new and get a little dirty.

Group photo after the final work day

Many of the different jobs we did while working with Habitat came with this sense of accomplishment, except digging ditches. Digging ditches sucks. All jokes aside, I’m glad our service project was working with Habitat for Humanity. The older directors were hilarious, they advised us to swear while we worked and taught us different skills. I also had a lot of respect for the Germans, Phillip and Miro, who were probably there every day, I was beat after each morning session.

However, the most important reflection isn’t about us feeling accomplished, or that we used power saws and hammers. The most important part of our service work was that we were able to do something for someone other than ourselves. The director’s words at the end of each day about how much the neighbors appreciated the work they did, and how much of an impact they had, really resonated with me. For this reason, the next time I find myself doing involuntarily doing volunteer work, I will go in with an open mind and make the most out of my time.

The worst job on site

This sentiment is something I found to be true throughout my experience at Freshman College. This is what I think an important part of college is, opening up your mind to new experiences and making the most of your time. New people, new places, new ideas, new subjects, and new experiences. There’s so much to be had in this city and at this time in our lives, the only way to make the most out of your time is to proceed without preconcieved notions and a willingness to try something new.

Before I moved into Freshman College, I had never met someone from Bainbridge, Georgia, or Albany, or Newnan. I thought I knew lots of people from different places, but I soon came to find that I had never even heard of some of these places or counties that some of my new friends are from. One thing I can say about Freshman College, is that my knowledge about the geography of Georgia has increased substantially.

As I met more people I came to learn that, while many of these people grew up similarly to me, at the same time many of them did not. They might be from a smaller town where the norm to them, is strange to me. Some people didn’t grow up knowing someone who wore a hijab, or someone who was Jewish. This made me realize that even though the students in Freshman College share many similar attributes, we all have our differences as too. These differences become less important the more we connect over what makes us alike.

However, when we look back on this month, one thing we probably all agree on is that we’re glad we came to Freshman College. All the late nights, early mornings, ditch digging, and homework were worth it. It was worth it to learn our way around the campus, worth it to earn six credit hours, and worth it to learn how quick a college class can go. Coming to Freshman College was certainly worth it to have met some of the kindest, smartest, and most fun people I’m glad to call my friends. And for this, I’d do this crazy month all over again, except the ditch digging.