I was first introduced to community-based learning (CBL) through my Montserrat course, “Exploring Differences”. To be honest, at first I was pretty ambivalent about it. The idea of going to St. Mary’s Healthcare Center once a week and visiting with a resident seemed a bit mundane. After all, what would I really be doing?My previous service experiences had always been concrete. I went in with a purpose like making sandwiches at a soup kitchen, or tutoring elementary school students. My professor’s recommendation to “avoid expectations” and just see what happened seemed a little impossible given my goal-oriented personality. But nonetheless, I decided to try.
By the time I completed my first semester of CBL, that all changed. I was hooked. I was in awe of just how much I had learned by simply showing up, and being present at St. Mary’s. My visits mostly involved listening to my resident talk about her childhood, and filling her in on the details of my life. Objectively, it didn’t seem like very important work. But after she asked for a hug and told me that she loved me after one visit, I realized that assumption couldn’t be further from the truth.
This experience prepared me for my first internship as an editorial intern for Cosmopolitanand Seventeen magazines because in a lot of ways, an internship is a similar to a CBL experience. Since you’re not in a concrete position, you’re basically required to show up and do whatever needs to be done, pitching in any way you can. You’re also not usually doing the “important” work. While this can feel disappointing to some, when I began to think of it in relation to my CBL experiences, it didn’t bother me. I realized that the small, sometimes tedious tasks of interns are often necessary in order to keep the larger operations running. So in that sense, the work is actually is pretty important and meaningful, you just have to look at it in a new way.
I enjoyed my CBL experience so much that I decided to apply to be a CBL Intern during my sophomore year. If you’re unfamiliar, the position involves assisting the daily operations of the Donelan Office of Community-Based Learning and deepening one’s understanding of community engagement. The application process requires a resume, a detailed application, and an interview. Considering I was still a first-year when I applied, this was my first real experience with applying and interviewing for an internship position, so the process served as a great learning opportunity for me.
After being accepted, the CBL Intern program also greatly prepared me for my first internship in the real world. As a CBL Intern, I learned how to interact professionally with supervisors, collaborate with team members, and assist in day-to-day operations of an office. It served as a great stepping stone before venturing into an internship position that was unaffiliated with Holy Cross. Without my CBL office experiences, I definitely wouldn’t have been as confident in my abilities to successfully contribute to a working team.
All of this is to say: take advantage of leadership and community engagement opportunities at Holy Cross whenever possible. They are a great low-stakes way to test the waters and get some experience in the outside world while still having the support of the Holy Cross community when you need it.
Kara Cuzzone ’19 is a senior Anthropology major. Read more of her work at karacuzzone.com