[Note from Milestone: This blog is by the our dear friend and intern, the inimitable Maia Krivoruk. We first met Maia when she was a five-year-old whirlwind of energy and opinions. She grew up to be a wonderful, caring, courageous adult. Her curiosity and compassion to learn about people have taken her around the world. We could sing Maia’s praises for days and days, but instead we invite you to read her wonderful blog about making hard choices, trying to live a meaningful life, and growing up.]
In the beginning of this academic year, I was sitting on the 23rd floor in the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh. I was one of twenty future social workers in this Models of Intervention course, a core class for the MSW that I was set to receive by August 2018. In the days leading up to the beginning of this academic endeavor, doubt was suffocating me. A part of me knew that this program was not what I needed or wanted to be doing. I was secured with a prestigious fellowship that gave me a specialized placement at the top outpatient clinic and a generous stipend. But it just wasn’t right. I was setting myself up to become something that I didn’t want to be. Having gone to Pitt for my undergrad in social work, it was a logical and rather easy move to enroll in the Masters program. However, there I was, in class, embarking on this journey knowing that I should have turned left instead of right.
I made what had to be the scariest and most intense decision of my life thus far — after just two weeks at the Masters program. I deferred my acceptance to give me more time to evaluate what I truly wanted for myself in the upcoming year. This decision was really frightening — and not in the romanticized type way, where you trust that you’ve made a decision that will open doors for me and lead to curious adventures. It was terrifying to pack up everything, leave a city I had called home for the past 4 years, and return home with only an orientation packet to show for it.
It is not that I have been afraid to make bold moves. When I was sixteen, I traveled to London with my Girl Scout troop to mentor younger scouts about what it means to be a female entrepreneur in a global economy. In 2012, I went to Romania with Habitat for Humanity to build houses with and for local families.
As a freshman, I got the idea of supporting an orphanage in Guatemala. I helped gather more than 800 medical and school supplies and the next year I led a team of six friends to Sololá. We taught the kids English and wellness activities and learned about issues of global poverty and neglect and about international adoption. Upon returning, my team and I created a club at Pitt so that others can experience what we did.
I spent most of 2015 in New Zealand, studying and working with the Maori people there. In 2016, I helped supervise a high school group from Minnesota that was visiting the Navajo American Indian reservation in Arizona, where we all learned about traditional practices and about the many injustices that American Indians still face today.
In December 2016, I toured Poland to learn about the history of Jewish people in Europe. In 2017, I represented the University of Pittsburgh at the annual Atlantic Coast Conference Leadership Symposium in North Carolina to discuss racial diversity and representation on college campuses. It was through all these experiences that I learned what a true sense of community feels like. Watching local and global citizens invest themselves into these communal goals is deeply humbling and inspiring. My service-learning trips enabled not only personal growth, but also provided me with amazing and unforgettable adventures.
In the days after I had deferred and returned home from grad school at Pitt, I felt like I was sinking. My brain was overrun with thoughts of whether or not I should have stuck it out. Some of my advisors, friends, and family members had told me that it would be better to have a Masters degree in a year than to go home in search of a maybe or a possibility. But it wasn’t right. I couldn’t sit in a seat that was meant for someone else.
I’ve spent the last couple of months weighing what I deem important. And to be quite honest, I still don’t have a clue as to what I want to be when I grow up. If someone were to ask me in my late fifties, I probably still wouldn’t know. But I am working on accepting that unbelievably scary truth. That life is fleeting and the decisions we make will shape the type of person we become.
When I was in Israel in May of 2014 on a Taglit-Birthright trip, my group stopped at a cemetery shortly after landing in Tel Aviv. Our group leader had told us the story of the first men and women who came to tend to the lands and turn what was once desolate and barren wasteland into prosperous and bountiful farmland. He explained the daunting and taxing process that these farmers went through everyday, sleeping on haystacks with little to eat — but how they also knew that they and their communities would reap the benefits of their hard work in the years to come. The last thing the group leader has said was, “think about your own lives, and think about what gets you up and off your haystack in the morning.” It’s been a little over three years now and that mantra has been stained into my memory. Now I am not an unreasonable or gullible person. I know that to have a job right after college that gets you off your haystack is not always feasible. But shouldn’t it at least be strived for?
And so after signing away a year of a guaranteed degree and fellowship, I challenged myself to reconcile with my decision and discover what I’m striving for. I know that in the future, I would like to receive a degree within in the field of public health. I want to influence population health safely and effectively. I want to ensure that healthcare is not a privilege for the few but rather a right for all global citizens. But before I invest in that professional degree, I need to get out there. I want to explore parts of this world that will challenge and educate me. I want to be the calculated risk taker who knows that traveling and working with new people is never the wrong choice. The decision to leave Pitt is not some reckless wanderlust move, it’s a much needed shift, lining up pieces for me to pursue my passions for service-learning, international education, and global health.
And now, after being home for several months, I am rather relieved to announce that I have found my next adventure. AmeriCorps, which is a voluntary civil society supported by the U.S. government, has a branch called AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps). AmeriCorps NCCC is a full-time, residential, team-based program for young adults who would like to have hands-on experience in the fields of public health. I have been hired as the team leader and will be responsible for managing 10 other Corps members as we travel throughout the United States working on various disaster relief, emergency preparedness, and environmental sustainability initiatives. Current teams are primarily posted in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico to aid in the relief work from the past hurricanes.
Having just graduated, I know that I still need guidance, resources, and opportunities to help shape me into an ethical and purposeful public health leader. While I am still nervous about this next chapter, I do feel this program will give me an opportunity to further deepen my understanding of service-learning pedagogy and build new experiences designing and implementing public health missions. The knowledge and skills I gain over the course of the year will be invaluable. My hope is that my leadership position in AmeriCorps NCCC will help better prepare me to challenge the members to think critically, develop intercultural competence, and more fully integrate practice/service into their journeys to becomes leaders in their chosen field. I look forward to collaborating with people across multiple disciplines and interest areas in this next adventure.