We had a three-day orientation in Minneapolis at the Urban Immersion Retreat Center in the Lake Street/ Midtown neighborhood. Mom dropped me off and soon enough I was with the group that I will be spending the next four months with. This was the first time we were all in the same room.
As a person who is generally anti-orientation, I was surprised by how well it went. We had some “lectures” where either Martin or other Gustavus professors came and talked about things like intercultural communication, ethnography methods, religion and meditation, and women’s issues in India. Here are some highlights…
Loaves & Fishes
For our first orientation supper, we split our group in half and went to a community meal. We took a 30-minute walk down to a church that serves a free meal every night. We tried to go in waves to look less conspicuous though it wasn’t hard to tell that we didn’t need to be there. After our meal we regrouped and reflected on our experience. This was my first community meal and I was definitely surprised by the number of people that cycled through the line in the short amount of time we were there. It was also apparent that many of the people we saw eating that night had to eat there on a regular basis as volunteers greeted them by name.
SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) is another name for food stamps. For this simulation, we got into “families” of five and were assigned a grocery store where we would be required to buy the ingredients for a meal using the average amount a family of five on food stamps would receive. With our $7.25 we walked to the transit center and took a bus to SuperValu. We had to buy meal ingredients that would account for protein, starch, vegetable, and fruit. We ended up buying protein-packed pasta, canned red sauce, canned pears, and fresh (on sale) carrots for just under $7.00. Once we got back to Urban Immersion we prepared and ate our meal together. Though it wasn’t a terrible meal, we were not particularly satisfied. We agreed as a group that we would not want to eat like this everyday. This was an eye opening experience for me. Never before have I had to pay so much attention to the price of groceries. I also learned that it’s nearly impossible to buy fresh produce while on SNAP.
A woman named Cynthia shared her story and spoke to our group about her experience as a homeless woman living in shelters in Minneapolis with her four kids. Her story helped us put a face with the issues of homelessness, hunger, domestic abuse, single parenting, and working multiple jobs. Through government assistance programs like Alliance Housing, she was able to get an apartment and find steady employment. Cynthia’s story helped us recognize that the American mentality of “pull yourself up by your boot straps” is rarely achievable without some form of public assistance. A person can only work so hard when they have everything working against them.
This wasn’t so much a scavenger hunt as it was an excise in navigating and experiencing different neighborhoods of Minneapolis. Hannah and I were assigned to go to downtown Minneapolis. Besides just getting there on our own, we had to find and meet with an NGO at a specified time as well as explore the area by answering some questions. As neither Hannah or I is from the cities we were both new to the busing system. We knew that we needed to take the 5 and we knew we needed to go North—we winged it from there, and surprisingly it worked! We then met with Mike who does PR for an NGO called House of Charity. House of Charity does temporary and semi-permanent housing, free meals, detox, and probably a few other things I don’t recall at the moment. For lunch, Hannah and I ate the free meal House of Charity was serving. We got there before the gate was open and waited in a long line in an alley filled with standing water. Though we didn’t blend in we never felt unwelcome. We went through the line and got our fish, mashed potatoes, green beans, soup, salad, and desert. The set-up for this meal was a bunch of circle tables that sat only four. Hannah and I saw two open spots and asked if we could sit with them. The woman introduced herself as Shelia (the man chose not to talk with us). Shelia talked to us about what she was doing there and talked to us about herself for a while. The lunch atmosphere was very rushed because there were so many people trying to find a spot to sit down in such a small space. We said goodbye to Shelia and then went on to explore other parts of downtown Minneapolis. We did a quick ethnography at the Hennepin County Government Center and then headed on to Nicollet Mall. Although Hannah and I were in downtown Minneapolis the whole time, we felt as if we were in three distinctly different areas. There was the mostly African American community where House of Charity is located, the more business feel near the government center, and finally a very touristy area at Nicollet Mall. Hannah and I managed to find our way back to UIRC having succeeded at a task we were both fairly nervous about.
Religion & Meditation Lecture
Gustavus professor David Obermiller came and talked to us about the differences between the ideas of religion and spirituality in Asia as compared to those in the United States. He gave us a quick lesson in Indian religions and then he led us in what we call “mindfulness practice,” which is SJPD slang for meditation. We sat in a circle on the floor—legs crossed, hands out in front and focused on our breaths for about 20 minutes. I think it is something that our group will come back to and will use as a tool for dealing with all of the new and different things we are about to encounter.
Orientation definitely pushed me outside of my comfort zone. I ate free community meals, explored a range of neighborhoods, figured out the transit system, and most importantly got to know a great group of SJPD-ers.
* I don’t think I mentioned this in my first blog post, but this blog has no schedule. My posting depends on my access to Internet, which is affected by travelling and power outages.
Next post will be from India!