Showing me what "Community" is

by Yi Wang, Volunteer group facilitator and graduate student

Yi (bottom center) and several of our volunteer group facilitators during a leadership training session

When I first arrived in Hamilton in my first year as a froshie, I was unaware of my innocent ignorance. I found myself living in a foreign city independently for the first time, overwhelmed by the new public transit system, not daring to venture further than the safety of McMaster for several months. When I finally stepped onto a city bus, I was shocked by how downtown Hamilton’s Jackson Square could be called a mall; it wasn’t similar to any other mall I knew. About halfway through my undergraduate career, I was accidentally brought to the Student Open Circles’ Volunteer Fair by my housemates. I remember dreading the cold back then, but I’m so glad that I left the house and trekked through the snow that night.

It was Student Open Circles that showed me what "community" can mean: offering support, raising awareness, building friendships, and so much more than I can put into words.  During busy times, my weekly opportunities to laugh with children at the Welcome Inn Community Centre and at the Inasmuch Women's Shelter were a getaway from overstressed peers and thoughts of studying.  I felt fortunate to have open-minded facilitators to reflect with in a safe and compassionate space.

When graduation was near… I realized how important the role is that Student Open Circles plays in my life, and how it was not yet time to say goodbye

When graduation was near and it was time to choose the next chapter, I was not only choosing a Graduate program, but I was also choosing a community to be a member of.  I realized how important the role is that Student Open Circles plays in my life, and how it was not yet time to say goodbye.  It has shown me and many others how to create a safe space and be truly inclusive, how to challenge ourselves to be vulnerable and grow, and how to humbly be a part of the wonderful Hamilton community.  For me, one of the greatest things I have come to appreciate is Jackson Square, how it offers everyone a space with free air conditioning in the summer, free heating in the winter, how it creates an inclusive space for everyone in downtown Hamilton, including people who have nowhere else to go.  The change in my perception of Jackson Square* from my first year in Hamilton to now is one thing I reflect on often to measure my growth.  I'm beyond grateful for the people I've met and the support I've received through Student Open Circles, for the opportunities to give back to this wonderful city, and for how they have helped me grow to be more sensitive, inclusive, and a more wholesome individual.

*Note from Jeff and Marybeth: If you aren't familiar with Hamilton, you might miss the magnitude of the attitude shift Yi is describing.  The Jackson square area, where we live, is often spoken of with disdain and fear by other students and "better-off" locals.