I had always known to keep plans loose when coming into LEVN. When I started this program, I planned on getting residency in California to start graduate school here. The programs here are simply more diverse than in Idaho, so it was an obvious win-win for any future graduate student. I also planned to visit a Sikh temple, try new things, eat healthier, and just try to be more a little more extroverted (though not too much, extroverts are strange creatures).

I feel like most of my goals were achieved, with the exception of the Sikh temple, which I simply lost interest in. I also failed to achieve residency in California due to my lack of desire to go to graduate school right away. I want to explore more of who I am and what my interests are before i commit to graduate school. There are so many possibilities out there, and I’m not really interested in the cost of graduate school in California at this point in my life (especially after LEVN!). The most fun things I did in California were the unexpected things. I loved trying the Kava bar downtown, which is a root which relaxes you. It was probably one of the best self-care things I went through on. When I first was told about it by god-knows-who-now, I thought they were on some hard core drug and was repulsed. When I later realized it’s a large commercialized root, I was pretty excited to try it. It was an amazing experience that all should try while here. We don’t have kava bars where I’m from, but I’m definitely taking 50 dollars worth home to Idaho. God wants us to be happy. Why not let God do all the work?

My placement site was in the field I was interested in. I was told by my priest back home if given the choice that I should go outside my comfort zone and not work in a church or school. I am so grateful I did just that.  I had an interest in Psychology and public health, so being a case manager was a good fit. It was challenging at times, but worth the experiences. It also will look good for future school applications when my interest in going to graduate school returns. I am still highly interested in the two topics. I have clarified my interests even further however. I would definitely prefer not to be a counselor in the field. It’s just not my interest. I am still highly interested in how Psychiatry works as well as research. I’m not too sure where else this will take me. I’ve also started to develop an interest in School Psychology, mostly because of its influence in the educational field, but I’m not sure where that will take me.

Many of my hobbies when I first came here didn’t stay as strong as they were back at my hometown. For instance, violin is a hobby I dearly love. When I first started my placement site, I woke up at 5:30 AM, left at 6 AM, got home at 7 PM, and went to bed at 9 PM. I had no time to practice, and it left me sad. I had spent so many hours in this instrument, and I have no time to practice now.

Violin practice for me is still every morning at 5:30 AM. It’s become almost a religious practice. My spiritual director is strongly supportive of it. I will practice every day for an hour, and when people ask me why I am so invested every day in violin, they often ask what my end goal is. Usually I just chuckle at this.

As the year went on, especially once I brought a car and my position was slightly elevated in autonomy, I had the time to practice violin again. I even enrolled in lessons in May to increase my skills. It was the most relieving time in my LEVN experience. I was happy to have the time to do the things I loved most: play the violin, teach others the basics of music, talk about my interests in religion, study Spanish, research computer programming, etc.

I learned that as an intern, you need to stand up for yourself. You need to really be aware of your rights as an intern. People do not have the right to stomp over you – whether that be a client, employee, whoever. You must keep communication open with the pastors and report anything that is wary to them for your own health or safety.

When I first arrived in Sacramento, I had never really seen so much poverty. My home state of Idaho has poverty, but on a much smaller scale (at least visible). I had never been spat on before in my life. I had never been offered illegal drugs while walking to work before. All of this was new to me, and I think I forgot that this was a possibility.

Some of my clients tested me on this. I work hard to make them comfortable. I go in all my clients’ home to make sure they’re safe (something which not all employees will do, but I will). I will go in there and talk to them about their day. I’ll even sit on their sofas if it’s a budget meeting. Now, some of these clients feel so safe with me, they will talk in very crude ways during our meetings. I remind them if they go too far, but a lot of the time, it’s just how they grew up. Clients can be homophobic, sexist, ageist, and you must stand up for yourself and remind them of standards and expectations. But sometimes they sincerely just are different in their culture. They will cuss much more than you’re use to and will throw you off guard. They will lie to you every day and will mislead you into believing their false stories. This part the of my job I sincerely love. It was so fascinating, especially because I have a Social Science degree. It was so amusing to find this different social standard and be totally at odds with social norms. I have never met someone who would prefer to pay for cat nip for cats on the street than pay their rent. Definitely a learning experience everyone should have.

I’m extremely grateful for being able to branch out and make friends outside of the LEVN house. I think this was a smart decision in the long run. Every now and then, people will need to escape the LEVN house, especially us introverts who are delicate geniuses by default. I would definitely recommend student clubs and trying thing likes the Kava bar downtown. Long walks have also been a coping mechanism. I would say this year I’ve probably walked about an an hour or two each day. It’s been a great help with stress.

I enjoyed the retreats a lot. My favorite was the Berkley retreat. There was a lot to do and a lot of walking. We even walked up a hill to oversee all of the university. I liked the Berkley retreat probably because we were able to go explore as a group, but is also offered some ability to recollect my thoughts. The others, especially the 2nd retreat, felt a little hard for me for some reason. I’m still not too sure why, possibly due to the fact that I had allergies acting up.

I would say that the medical field is one thing I experienced that allowed me to relate most with the poor while in LEVN. I have waited long hours in the local community clinic waiting for a simple card saying that I can get my allergy medicine. It was hard and annoying. It definitely helped me relate to those less fortunate than me in terms of the medical field.

As for religion, I find it really fascinating that in terms of theology, I am quite liberal in Idaho, but very conservative in California. I once saw an individual play an electric guitar in a church. I thought Satan had become incarnate and that the antichrist was imminent. It was disturbing. Little things like these will cross my mind every now and then when I talk to others about religion. I have to remember that many times, even though we both belong to the same branch of Christianity, we can think very differently. Many times it feels alienating. Christianity in California is just rather different. I don’t know if I could ever effectively work in the church system here.

Every few months I think about how my life has been. It’s kind of like a three month evaluation of my life. I ask myself if I had stood up for myself enough, if I had tried to take risks, and if I had fun. Easy things like that. I also try to see where my mind was the entire time. I’ve tried especially hard this year to be mindful. In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, “I have arrived, I am home. In the here, and in the now. I am solid, I am free. In the ultimate I dwell”. Like many people I tend to ruminate about past failures or be concerned with future anxieties. Out of the two, I definitely live in the future the most. I love pondering all my possibilities, and because I can’t settle on one thing, I keep a variety of routes I could take in my head. It’s also quite tiring. It’s something I’ve tamed more and more as this year has gone on.

People won’t change too much over the course of just a year. A little, definitely, but not anything life-changing. Interests may get more specific, but I would say probably not much else. This is a unique experience, but people shouldn’t make it overly dramatic. Intentional community for me has been rather loosely constructed. I felt like at times i was the only one who took it as a religious experience, and that made it feel lonely in my thinking. At other times, I felt like it was for a good cause, like helping the poor, which made me feel very supported. And then there are the times, which all will have, when you ask yourself if it’s really what the program meant by community. Each community will answer this differently. I’m mostly satisfied by what I’ve obtained, but I feel like some may not be in the long run.

Besides this mindset, I also recommend just being very devoted to something. Violin was obviously my escape route. Anything will do. Have a hobby when you come into intentional community and focus your energy into that. Be on the lookout for possibilities and always remember that LEVN will come to an end much sooner than you expect it to. Once you pack your stuff, just be ready for a very fun experience. If you hate it, eleven months will go, sometimes slowly, but it will. If you love it, well, don’t get too cozy. I would say that’s the most strange awkwardness about LEVN. It’s long enough where you get cozy and then you’re told to get out, but short enough to allow other opportunities to arise to show off what you’ve learned. I suppose everything comes to an end eventually.

-Alexander

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