Something I have started to value as I venture out on my own is asking people about their experiences when they were my age. The most common things people tell me are to take more risks and travel often. If you’re a recent college graduate with student loans like myself, then you probably aren’t able to take a week off of work and drop a g to travel to Dubai at this juncture. Although traveling abroad is a valuable intrinsic experience which allows an individual to interact with new cultures and broaden his/her/their perspective, traveling within the state you are living can be just as rewarding.
I have grown up on Long Island and remained in the state of New York for twenty-three years. I went to University located upstate NY, (shoutout SUNY Oneonta, Go Red Dragons). FYI for us Long Island folks we consider any location upstate once you exit the metropolitan area. Living in my hometown, I would hop on the long island railroad for an Islanders hockey game in Brooklyn or a night out at an overpriced bar in Manhattan, but I still have not explored a majority of this expansive state.
I discovered the Resource Assistance for Rural Environments AmeriCorps program while job searching in April of 2017 and seeing the location on the opposite coast immediately dismissed it. How could I move somewhere I had never been, where I knew no one and be a functioning human being? Make friends as an adult in a new town… (cue internal shudder).
After a few more months of searching with no luck I still had the program swimming in my consciousness. One night it bubbled to the surface and I could no longer ignore it. After a quick google search I discovered that they had reopened their application process for a few last-minute placements. Call it coincidence, serendipity or divine intervention, I knew that I was going to pursue this opportunity.
Within a month’s time of submitting my application I booked a 6-hour plane ride with a one-way ticket to Oregon and became an east coast transplant. Over a year later and I have decided to continue as a second-year placement in my community. Since moving to Oregon, I have traveled more this past year than I have in my entire life. I have friends I can visit in every corner of the state. I’ve visited the communities near the ocean on the coast, seen beautiful mountains, rafted on the river, hiked the forests and camped near Crater Lake. I have been an integral part of providing capacity to community development projects based on grassroot efforts. By doing so I have uncovered where my strengths lie and have an expansive professional network in my discipline.
I have also been more uncomfortable than I have ever been. I have had to try to make friends: through the process turned into my mother taking every opportunity to strike up conversations with random strangers. I have taken myself out for nights on the town; dinner, movies drinks… the works. I have also spent months apart from some of the most vital people to my identity.
Despite this, if you ask me for my advice, I would tell you to DO IT! The risk you are scared to take, the change you are hesitating to make, the thing that you tell yourself you can’t do. You can and it’s worth it.
About the author, Emma Vallillo: Emma studied Geography with a concentration in Urban and Regional Planning at SUNY College at Oneonta. Before coming to Oregon for RARE, she worked for the Town of Brookhaven, NY Planning Department and shadowed the principle planner, gaining invaluable experience in planning and local government. 2018-2019 is her 2nd RARE year with the City of Coburg, where she played an integral role in the Coburg Golden Years Festival.
Does community development work interest you? Are you looking for a life changing experience in rural Oregon? Learn more about serving with the RARE AmeriCorps Program via our website: https://rare.uoregon.edu/application-process/member-application-process