Written by: Lindsey Johnson
AJSS Participant 2013-2014
I chose to attend a 25 Days of Change trip to Portland, Oregon the summer of 2013 to have something unique to add on my college applications. When I say “I chose”, I really mean that my mom sat me down and said that I needed to do something more productive than another summer at sleep away camp. What I did not realize at that time, being a rising high school junior, was that AJSS would not only be an experience I could talk about while applying to schools, but that it would also help better prepare me for my college experience. I had such an amazing experience on that Portland trip that the next summer I participated in the 6 Weeks of Impact trip to Memphis, Tennessee, where I once again made some incredible memories and learned some valuable lessons for what college would bring.
First off, on an AJSS trip, you live in one room with about eight other people. While this living arrangement is perfect for some jam sessions and late night heart to hearts, it also means that you have to learn to share a small space, just like living in a dorm. Going into college and having a roommate that I only knew from brief Facebook chat conversations, I knew that it was important for us to set the rules for our room when we first moved in. Having set rules to follow that we both agreed on definitely helped prevent arguments that could have occurred later on in the semester, which some of my friends went through. I believe that having those rules in place and open communication from the start allowed my roommate and I to both respect the shared area and make it a comfortable living environment.
Also, getting to know this group of strangers on my AJSS trips meant lots of icebreakers and awkward introductions, something that I have done countless times since I started college last fall. Each class brings new groups that you have to work in, most of which are with people you do not know. After going on AJSS trips and being able to quickly bond with other participants, it was easy to translate those social skills to bond with my college group members. We learned about the five stages of groups on my trip to Memphis, and knowing and experiencing them in the past made me more prepared for what laid ahead for my college groups. Going into AJSS, I was extremely shy and reserved. My trips helped me become a more open and outgoing person, which has led to success at school. I am able to work in groups with people that have different majors, interests, and beliefs than I do. During AJSS programs you are put in a different environment where the culture and lifestyle of the community is different from your hometown. Learning to adjust and appreciate those differences was one of my biggest takeaways from AJSS. AJSS participants come from different backgrounds, which definitely made me more culturally aware.
Finally, you should know that Jewish geography is a real thing. I not only have friends at my college that I met because of AJSS, but I also have friends that I visit at different schools in the area that were on my trips. I started school only knowing one person, a friend from my Portland trip, and it was extremely calming to have someone to go to whenever I had a question about school. After being at college for over a year now, I can confidently say that AJSS has and will continue to impact my life. Not only has AJSS made me a more confident and empathetic person, but these trips have encouraged me to push boundaries. I know that if I have my mind set on something I will be able to accomplish it and make an impact on my community.