By: Lauren Gilleland (with input from Alexandre, Beatrice, Rachel, and Yann)
The dreaded project.
To be honest, I don’t think any of us were looking forward to the volunteer project. First, we were going to have to wake up early and drive an hour to the harbor in order to catch the 9 AM water taxi to an island in the middle of Boston Harbor. Second, we were told only vague details about the project: we “might be widening trails or maybe picking up trash.” Lastly, this was going to take up the entire day. Four or five hours seemed like a less than ideal way to spend what was going to be a beautiful Saturday.
Reflections from France: Alexandre–When I was first asked to take part in those volunteering projects, I thought it was weird from the local coordinator to ask such a thing to a foreign student, as volunteering is not very developed here in France. Then, after a couple of weeks spent in the United States, I had met some great people, and I started looking forward to it. On the way to Grape Island, I asked myself many times “Why am I doing this?”
My exchange student from France, Alexandre, seemed mostly excited about the prospect of swimming during a break. He had even called the other exchange students, Yann (France) and Beatrice (Italy), and Beatrice’s host sister, Rachel, the night before to tell them to bring their bathing suits – that somehow he’d work it into the day.
We arrived at the harbor, still all half asleep. The wait for the water taxi was longer than it should have been, and the local coordinator told the taxi driver that we would stay a few hours later than originally planned.
After a short boat ride, we arrived at the island and the rangers greeted us with a wheelbarrow filled with tools.
We began walking up a steep and winding trail. When we finally came to a stop at a large opening, the ranger told us our task would be to clear out the small, thin trees that had grown over and blocked the view. By standing on our toes on a nearby bench, we were able to get a glimpse of the Boston skyline.
Reflections from Italy: Beatrice–Before coming to the US I thought that the volunteer project would have been harder than it really was, but I chose to do it ’cause I thought it was a great experience to have.
The project becomes a little more interesting.
“Now,” the ranger continued, “there could be a few baby deer in there.”
Immediately Beatrice, Rachel, and I became excited. “If you come across one, they won’t move themselves, so you’ll have to pick them up and move ‘em to the side” he explained.
Once all our gloves were on and tools in hand, we set out to work.
The project quickly becomes fun.
You could tell just how much Yann and Alexandre were enjoying themselves by the speed they were going. Within the first ten minutes they had each cleared long, but narrow paths into the bushes. Rachel, Beatrice, and I followed behind them, clearing out all the trees they had left behind.
I’m not exactly sure how long it took us to clear all the trees, but it was only a few hours. In the end, we were able to sit on the bench and enjoy the most beautiful view of the Boston skyline I had ever seen.
The project ends; but lots of fun still ahead.
Reflections from France: Yann–“I liked Grape Island and the volunteering project we have done, it was also interesting…and confirms what I thought about volunteering: it’s good for people.
When we returned to the project site after lunch, we found the ranger looking around. “Wow, you guys finished quickly! Feel free to hang around the island, and join us for kayaking at 2,” he told us.
“Let’s go swimming now!” someone yelled excitedly.
We spent the remainder of the day swimming, kayaking, and laughing.
In the end, it was a terrific, beautiful, fun, and rewarding day. Alexandre summed it up nicely: “Volunteering never lets you down!”
Lauren Gilleland is Junior at King Philip Regional High School in Wrentham, Massachusetts. She was so inspired after becoming friends with the three exchange students — who stayed with families in her town for three weeks last summer, including Alexandre who stayed with her family — that she worked with her school’s principal to start an International Club. The club currently has twenty members.