Self-care. It is a buzz word that you hear very often, but it is so much easier said than done. During my first few years of teaching, it felt nearly impossible to even consider implementing self-care practices into my daily routine because there just didn’t seem to be enough hours in the day between grading papers, lesson planning, helping to shape virtuous little human beings, and trying to sneak a little sleep in there somewhere. While this year of international service in Chile with the Good Shepherd Volunteer program was not exactly what I expected it to be, as the former GSV Staff member Lindsey always said, I believe I had the year I was “meant to have.” Unlike the past, I was able to practice self-care which has impacted my mind, body, and spirit.
Let’s start with the mind: As an educator, one of my favorite concepts to stress is that we are all life-long learners. There is no greater reminder of that than moving to a country where you don’t speak the language. Learning Spanish required my brain to be on in a way that I was not accustomed to, paying much closer attention to try to understand and be understood; I had to adopt self-care practices to give my brain a break. As an English major, reading and writing have always been my passions, but I turned to books and journaling for a new reason this year. After a long day of teaching or work at the office, I was mentally exhausted from all of my Spanish interactions. Getting lost in a book or writing about my experiences provided me with a small break and an opportunity to recharge mentally.
Moving on to the body: When I was teaching in San Francisco, I worked at a school with a rather rigorous schedule. The students were in the building from 7:15-5:00, and this required a lot of work both before and after school. By the time I would commute home, I would make or buy something quick for dinner, grade papers or plan activities, and head to bed to do it all over again the next day. While I absolutely loved working with my students, I was not properly taking care of my body, constantly blaming it on my lack of time.
Here in Chile, I did not have that excuse anymore. I didn’t make any monumental changes; I just focused on basic self-care tactics that I was not prioritizing before. I hadn’t had a full night’s rest since my mom stopped enforcing my bed time, and I noticed considerable changes in my energy level after getting an adequate amount of sleep. I had forgotten what a nap even was, so siestas were a welcomed extra bonus! My community members and I made exercise a priority; other than teaching our Zumba and yoga classes, we attended a free (simplicity win) CrossFit class 2-3 times a week. Apparently, if you eat balanced meals, it can actually help you lose weight as well. I have never been a huge fan of cooking, but this year helped me to put that aside, prioritize what is in my best interests financially, and care about my body enough to fill it with better options. Of course, I still eat some junk and always will, but I have learned to keep my portions under control. The true test will be to maintain these better habits when I have Chicago pizza and my favorite Chinese restaurant back in my life, combined with less time in my schedule.
And now, my spirit: Before coming to Chile for my year of service, I was in a rather negative space. I saw my behavior impacting those around me, and I knew that it was time to make a change. I wanted to serve internationally since I was kid, and I was grateful to find a program with tenets (Spirituality, Social Justice, Simplicity, and Community) that I could grow in throughout my year. My faith has always been strongest when I am serving, so this year was a great opportunity for me to focus on my prayer life and living the Gospel. From a justice standpoint, I was able to educate myself about issues here in Chile, in the US, and in our world, re-lighting my fire to be an agent of change. While living simply has been a bit of a challenge, it has given me a greater appreciation for all that I have and helped me to evaluate my wants versus my needs. Finally, I have been blessed by the many communities who journeyed with me throughout this year, and they will forever hold a special place in my heart.
Overall, I really thought the year I was “meant to have” was going to be all about serving others; I was very grateful to learn that I was able to serve myself in the process by adopting a number of self-care practices. Realistically, I know I will not be able to continue all of these practices in my life back in the US. However, as I prepare for my transition, I am making it a priority to determine which of these practices can fit in order to continue nurturing my mind, body, and spirit. I’m voting for naps for now, but we’ll see!
Written by Liana Vantrease
Chile Community, 16-17