Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Community Service

(Or “What’s been keeping me busy, part 1”)

Image: A young man rests his head on his hand. His hand forms a fist and his head pushes down on it, in obvious boredom. The man is lazily punching the “up” key on the number pad of an old-style computer.

Like many American (and, indeed Pan-American) colleges, mine requires me to do some community service in order to graduate. Apparently this is an alien concept to Europeans so I’ll try to explain it briefly: Basically, I’m required to do work for free “for the benefit of the community”, in hopes that this will motivate me to do stuff for the places where I’ll live “for the benefit of the community”.

Now, before you rain suggestions on me like firefighters or soup kitchens, part of the catch is that the community service can’t be just any old volunteer work; it has to be a “service” registered with the university. There’s a bulletin board with all the options, as well as a web page, and I spent two weeks reading through them all. Turns out, 80% of the options require you to own a car (which, just like 60% of the student population, I don’t). What’s left is taking care of the campus grounds (under the hot summer sun), working in the town hall (which requires me to take so many buses it almost requires a car), and teaching at a school (which I actually do have some experience with).

Having chosen the third option, I went and talked to the necessary people, found out all the necessary information, filled out the form, and handed it in. The response was something like this:
You’re going to graduate when?!? Oh, there’s no way you can do all your community service hours before then! You need to start right now!
“Right now” was, of course, at the beginning of that delight little period known as “summer vacation”, which schools, naturally, also do. Since schools are, from all external point of view, closed during the summer, I couldn’t put in community service hours teaching. Fortunately, the amount of time I’m supposed to spend “in” the community (in this case, the school’s students) is stipulated to be about half of the entire community service. This meant that I could do something during the summer even if there were no kids around. It was up to the bureaucrats to decide what.

Apparently, someone had misplaced all the files for the tests that had been typed between 1995 and 2005, but they still had the blank tests on paper. They wanted someone to type these tests up in Word so that they could incorporate them into their questions database. Also, if I would be so kind as to answer the phone when it rang, and answer the questions of the parents that came in.

Can you see it? What they wanted was a secretary, a secretary that would work for free. Oh sure, the phone probably only rang 3 times during the month I was there, and only two parents (or should I say couples?) ever came in to ask anything, and I got their answers off the wall behind them, but still, it’s kind of frustrating to do a full-qualification job, with all the mind-numbingness and tediousness of a real job, that probably has no impact on the community, and not get paid.

On the other hand, to those two couples, those three callers, and the scarce few teachers that will use the questions database, it’ll make all the difference in the world.

That was the first half of my summer.

1 comment:

  1. I guess you can at least take solace in the fact that your summer hours were sacrificed for the greater good of humanity.