Volunteerism 101

How to survive your selfless act

I’ve done the unthinkable. Instead of doing what I usually do with my fantastically busy Saturdays (sleeping in is very important to me), I’ve gone and done something I knew I’d regret.

I’ve volunteered for Student Life 101 at uWaterloo.

Student Life 101 is an event hosted by students, for new students to help with the university transition. The event runs for the whole day with guided tours of the university campus, presentations about residence, living off campus, and tons of other events to help make the leap into university life as easy as possible.

Two students started Student Life 101 thirteen years ago. They felt that incoming students could really benefit from a tutorial day full of info about their new home. The event brought in 100 visitors its first year. This year? Over 6,000.

I went to SL 101 last year. It was definitely worth it. The place was swarming with upper-year student volunteers walking around campus in those yellow shirts, offering to answer any and all questions about the place that would become my second home. The day gave me a chance to get to know the campus before classes started.

So this year I wanted to return the favour.

The directors of SL 101 are smart. It was too easy to volunteer. All I had to do was fill out an online form with my name and student number, and feel good about myself. They even bragged up the free shirts you’d be wearing, in a very flattering shade of yellow, for the day.

But their greatest idea was to have the form available to fill out about two weeks before the actual volunteering event. It meant I had 14 days to forget about getting up early until I got an email about a training session. That’s when it all came rushing back.

Oh yeah. I volunteered. On a Saturday. And have to get up at 6:00am.

During the training session we got to meet the Student Life 101 directors, go through practice scenarios, and learn what team we would be on. There are over 20 teams, including a media and ASK-ME team. My team? Very glamourous. We’re crowd control, garbage patrol, and parking attendants.

There are three stages to volunteering. The Altruistic Stage, when you’re feeling all warm and fuzzy. You break free of time conserving inhibitions and recklessly sign up to volunteer. You don’t actually have to do anything in that moment of generous time-donation. So it doesn’t matter that you’ll dread it later. And doing something selfless like that makes you feel all special.

Then you hit the Regret Stage. You realize, despite your honourable and selfless intentions, that you might not be prepared for the time commitment. This is also the stage when you realize you can’t back out of your selfless act because you’d be letting someone down (plus they have your name and number). You curse your earlier carefree self.

The Inevitability Stage is the best stage. You’re volunteering. Once you deal with that fact, it gets much easier. Sometime during or after your volunteering ordeal, you realize it was a character building experience. It’ll look good on your resume, and you (gasp) might have even enjoyed the day.

Tomorrow is Student Life 101. And I now have a raging case of second stage volunteerism. I’ve had my ugh-I-have-to-get-up-early epiphany, and am really not looking forward to getting up at 6 a.m. tomorrow.

I know that 24 hours from now, I’ll have enjoyed the whole experience. Now I just have to make it that far.