This great story was written by Rae Diamond, a 2019-20 AmeriCorps college coach at College Possible Oregon. These stories are written each year by AmeriCorps members and then read weekly at team meetings as a mechanism for our team to reflect, share learnings and stay connected to the students and coaches who have come before us and will come after us.
I work best with people one-on-one. Because of this, being a college coach seemed like the perfect fit for me. I was so excited to make these amazing connections with my students and help them through one of the toughest things a person can do — getting a college degree. When I first started looking at and researching the position, I didn’t anticipate what this year would turn out to be. By the time I was finished with the interviewing and onboarding process, quarantine was in full swing, I was fully isolated and remotely connecting with students and teammates. This is fine, I thought at one week in. I was a little disappointed with the new struggles that came with learning the ropes of this work over a flimsy Wi-Fi connection, but at least it felt more meaningful to be helping students in the face of such a disruptive time.
One month into my service year, I’d spent my days reaching out and reaching out again, banging my head against the wall trying to get someone, anyone, to answer a phone call, email, text, anything. So far, there had been a few coaching sessions that were successful, but only in the sense that I had followed the guide and gotten the information I needed from the student. I still didn’t feel very connected, and I could tell my students didn’t either.
Two weeks after that, I had another scheduled coaching session with a student. It was right after lunch, the same time when I had to leave my workstation to register to vote. I was running a little late, so I got home and dashed up the stairs to my desk dialing the phone and pulling up the notes I had prepared for this session as fast as I could.
“Hi, is this Fowzia?” I replied, trying to sound polite, professional and not totally out of breath.
“Yes it is, how are we going to video chat?”
I paused. I wasn’t prepared for that, all of my calls up to this point were just over the phone and this student hadn’t requested a video chat anywhere on the form to schedule the call. I fumbled for a minute, trying to find Zoom and quickly figure out how to send her a link while trying to make small talk. It was a little awkward, but eventually we got the video chat working.
Before I could begin following the guide, Fowzia quickly interjected, “Can I show you my dorm room? Nobody can really visit me because of the social distancing so I haven’t been able to show it off yet.”
I said yes of course. Fowzia proudly gave me the tour of her very cute dorm room, and when I noticed the poster for a movie I really enjoyed I pointed it out. Soon we started talking about movies and anime that we both liked, especially Naruto. Fowzia showed off her Naruto shirt collection while I showed her my headband that hangs around the strap of my purse and the Naruto socks I happened to be wearing.
We eventually got around to the actual coaching session, but most of that chat was spent just talking and learning about each other. It felt so natural and fun to connect with this student and learn about her life.
After this conversation, I noticed a change in my other coaching sessions. I breathed a little easier, and talked a little more freely. More and more, this started feeling natural as I continued to make connections with my students, some of whom even text me out of the blue now just to update me about their day. All it took was one meaningful connection with one student who needed me for me to understand the work I’m doing on a deeper level. I may not be able to fix every single one of my students’ problems, especially right now when there are a lot of problems students are facing, but I can still help by listening and sharing in their little joys like their cute dorm rooms.