Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Field Placement, Boxers and Shaking it

Today has been a really rewarding day.  I was on campus from 9:00am-8:30pm.  Yep, I was in class or in the library or taking a quick break in Washington Square Park before going back to the first two.  It's been a crazy day but so satisfying.

I love my classes.  It's the most wonderful thing to be truly interested and enjoy every single class that I'm in.  Normally, in undergrad work, there are some required courses that you just have to muscle through.  But I really don't think I'm going to have to muscle through any of my classes.  The lectures are interesting and I'm not constantly watching the clock counting down when I can leave.  It's precisely the confirmation I needed that I'm studying the right thing, in the right place with people who enjoy the things that I do.  It's lovely.

I've had two days of field work so far.  It's a pretty large Senior Center out in Brooklyn.  I take the subway there three days a week--the commute is about 45 minutes.  When I got off the subway for the first time, I felt like I got off in a different country.  The community is highly populated with Orthodox Jews.  The signs to the stores are written in Hebrew, all of the little boys walking to school have shaved heads except for two long ringlets hanging in front of each ear, etc.  It was strange being a minority in a completely different way than I'm used to in Manhattan.

This week, my supervisor just wanted me to mix and mingle with the seniors.  It's been really chill and a lot of fun to meet so many active, bright, positive and hilarious people.  I have been amazed by how many people come out every single day to this place.  A couple hundred elderly folk come early in the morning (some even get there before we open at 8:30) and stay all day.  The center is huge--complete with a gym, karaoke room, pool table room, card game room and a massive room with a big dance floor.  Yes, every day at 1:00pm they have a huge dance where all of the seniors break it down.  It's hilarious and adorable all at the same time.  The chinese seniors get way into karaoke and I can hear them in my office when they're singing upstairs.  I can't even be mad about it because it's so funny.

It's quite an interesting mix of people as well.  As I had mentioned, many of the seniors are from China who come everyday.  There's a smaller group, but a solid group of about 20 that are Italian.  Other than that, they're mostly born and raised in the area.  The dynamics between the groups is quite fascinating to watch.  Many of the Italians have expressed frustration that back when they came to this country they had to learn english and it really bothers them that so many people live here (and come to the center) and don't speak english.  But more than that, it clearly stops them from getting to know each other when they can't verbally communicate.

A couple of my favorite moments so far:

  • The little old gentlemen are so classy.  I was noticing yesterday that every single one of them comes wearing slacks, a button up shirt and nice shoes.  Not one was wearing jeans or a t-shirt of any sort.  Such classy blokes.  The ladies, likewise, usually have a skirt and are dolled out with necklaces and earrings. 
  • One of the gentlemen is born and raised in Brooklyn.  He was telling me all about his boxing years when he was young.  He said, "People talk about Rocky.  Rocky who?" He almost instinctively pulls his arms up in a defensive boxing position as he reminisces about the good ol' days.  My favorite detail is when his eyes lit up and he asked, "You wanna know what they used to call me?  ....Punchy."  I died laughing.  What a nickname.
  • An Italian lady and I are have cute little friendship so far.  She's adorable and always gestures for me to come sit next to her when she sees me--she often makes her husband move. haha She raves about her husband.  It's so fun to hear.  It didn't take me long into our first conversation to recognize that she would repeat details to me-things she must talk about often, but didn't remember telling me.  I chatted with her, trying to understand the severity of her memory problems.  She looked at me and went off on how amazing her husband is.  "I don't remember things all the time.  My husband is so good to me.  He tells me not worry about it.  If I forget something, he said to ask him and he'll tell me."  Adorable.  I can imagine that days and years of hearing the same thing over and over again must get old, but he's so patient with her and always acts like it's the first time.  I'm obsessed with them.
  • From what I've noticed, only in the dancing portion of the day do they all intermingle.  The Italian men will go ask the cute little Chinese women to dance.  I love watching their cute little wobbly bodies partner dance like they're young and spry.  There's something so beautiful and sweet to me about their resilience.  Surely they've all had hard times and deep sorrows, but they look at you through their weathered faces and still have beautiful and warm smiles.  Their dancing is no different.  They're still upbeat and happy.  A lot of times you'll even see two italian women or two chinese women dancing with each other due to lack of male partners.  It makes me so happy.
  • One of the Italians was a founder of an Italian newspaper out here.  When he found out I speak Italian, he told me he would bring me a copy of the newspaper.  Sure enough, Tuesday morning, he walked up to me with a newspaper and said I could keep it.  Small little gestures like that are so sweet to me.  It was so thoughtful and not required...which is what made it so darling.
I'm really happy.  Life's not perfect.  I'm certainly stressed about school and all that I have to do this year, but I'm very thankful for the people I've met so far.  I'm learning a lot and feel so blessed to be here and continue my education in a field that, come to find out, I truly love.  It's so nice to have moments like this.  I figured I should probably write it down while it lasts.  Love you.  I'll write soon.  Mal