A Little Too Close (in age) For Comfort

As probably many young professionals can relate, it’s always a little awkward when your students are the same age, older, or maybe just a year or two younger than you. One of my positions this semester is to co-lead an Alternative Break Immersion trip to a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm in Michigan. The student leader that is my partner in crime is a super smart senior and soon-to-be law student who knows way more than I do about sustainability issues and environmental studies. His insights on food access, urban farming, and agriculture are incredible and reinforce how much more I have to learn about the issues we will encounter on our trip.

There are five student participants and at least one of them has walked this earth longer than I have. Three of the group members have gone on week-long service immersion trips before, this is my first one. Now, I know I shouldn’t let this get to me but I wonder how I am supposed to be the “leader” when I have less knowledge and experience than members in my group. Maybe this is a confidence thing, I know I have the ability to help these students learn and engage with the site in an impactful way. I went through the competitive application process and was selected because the Campus Ministry staff saw my potential. I’ve facilitated reflection in the contexts of service trips, retreats, workshops, and a host of other immersive experiences. So…this should be a piece of cake, right? Not quite.

I guess the difficult part about all of this is that I don’t feel like a leader. I feel like their peer, and that’s because, well, I am. The college students at this institution are by and large in the traditional, 18-22 year old range. As someone who finished her undergrad in June and just turned 23, I’m barely past that cut off. And in all honesty, it’s a little intimidating. I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity and my group members are well aware that I am not an expert in these topics, I haven’t worked in student affairs for years, and that I am learning right alongside them.

To be a leader does not mean you have more skill, knowledge, or ability. I like to think of my role as setting the stage or providing an open environment and opportunities for the group to go deeper, to challenge their minds and their hearts. I won’t pretend I have the answers, but I will provide the questions and a safe space for us to grapple with these issues together. 

Christina Ferrari  

Student Affairs - the First Years

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