Volunteer blogger Lillian Liao is back! It would've been really hard to top her last story on Strategic Volunteerism (which you should really check out, by the way), but this new blog is about both strategic volunteerism and cats (and some other animals that are not cats). Just when you thought volunteering couldn't get any more exciting ...
You know you have to read this blog post now. Because cats.
Over a cup of coffee on a Saturday afternoon, my friend and I were light-heartedly discussing the contents of our résumés as we prepared to apply for summer jobs. We were both at the beginning of our undergraduate studies and still had a long way to go in building up our professional experiences. Taking a sip of her drink, my friend gleefully joked that her résumé was a catalogue of the best places to get sushi in our city. The delicious summation of her qualifications is a result of working several part-time jobs as a waitress in sushi restaurants throughout high school. Desiring to seek a more permanent position that was actually related to her future field of work, my friend discussed the various possibilities for how she could translate the skills of "sushi waitressing" to fit a different employment appetite.
Although the contents of my résumé is nowhere near as appetizing as my friend’s, I still faced a similar situation with my own mismatch of past experiences, present interests, and future goals. Whenever I go for job interviews, employers are always puzzled by the sequence of animal-related volunteer work that I have done over the past years. I do not blame them, because judging by my résumé, I appear to be a completely different person. Although now I am student of the humanities, my résumé is a reflection of a time in high school where I thought I might want to pursue a career in veterinary medicine.
Part of my high school graduation requirements was to come up with a five year post-graduation plan which included potential education and career paths. After taking one too many career diagnostic tests, I had narrowed the possible choices down to two. The two choices were polar opposites of one another: writer or veterinarian. The former was something I had dreamt of doing since I was a child. However, caught between the cruxes of suitability and practicality, I began to think seriously about turning my love for animals into a career path.
Not willing to dive head first into unknown territory, I decided I would slowly dip my feet into the pool of veterinary medicine by volunteering. I began seeking opportunities within the community that would help build on my résumé, but also allow me to explore the field of veterinary medicine to determine if it would be a good fit for me. Back then, I was unaware this type of volunteering had a name - strategic volunteering. My strategic volunteering plans led me to volunteer positions at an animal shelter, the aquarium, and even a veterinary hospital.
In April of 2010, I began volunteering at the Cat Sanctuary branch of the Richmond Animal Protection Society. For three hours each Saturday morning I helped with the daily cleaning operations of the shelter. A typical volunteering shift included scooping out litter boxes, doing laundry, washing dishes, providing fresh water, and topping off the dry food. For someone who has never done more than the required chores around the house, I was surprised by the amount of physical effort it took to volunteer at the shelter. Needless to say, I was exhausted after each shift - volunteering gave me a good workout!
Regardless of how physically tasking the actual shift was, the first-hand experience of caring for animals was unparalleled to anything I have ever experienced before. The three hours flew by as I found myself in the company of dozens of cats, whom all had their own quirky personalities. As someone who hadn't previously been around cats very much, volunteering gave me an opportunity to learn about their behaviour. Through casually observing the medical staff at the shelter, I gained insight into the care-taking of sick cats. Without a doubt the most enjoyable part of volunteering at the shelter was the opportunity to spend time with these cats by giving them the love and attention they deserved. I began to enjoy volunteering at the shelter so much that it did not bother me to go home covered in layers of fur.
Lillian looking prepared to engage with marine biology in her VanAqua volunteer uniform
My strategic volunteering plans also led me to a volunteer position at the Vancouver Aquarium. After waiting several weeks for recruitment to open, I was dismayed to learn that I would have to go through a long application process which included several interviews before being officially recruited. I prepared for my volunteer interviews as if I was going into a job interview. I read up on the aquarium’s history, their mission statement, their conservation efforts, and current exhibits. On the day of the interview, I was indubitably nervous, but I forced myself to come out of my shell to prove that I would be an efficient worker.
After being selected, I went on to complete the aquarium’s training program. In the summer of 2011, I finally began volunteering for the aquarium. A typical volunteering shift for me included various activities - face painting, touch pools, as well as arts and crafts. In the beginning, my reserved personality made it difficult to maneuver through the busy Aquarium landscape. But soon enough, I found myself enjoying conversations with others about marine biology. Volunteering at the aquarium was a wonderful experience that furthered my knowledge of marine science and environmental conservation, and it also allowed me to develop communication and presentation skills.
These two volunteering positions provided me with first-hand insight into what it would be like to work directly and indirectly with animals. Volunteering provided me with the means to become an active participant, rather than a passive observer. Instead of naively trusting the career diagnostic tests, I was able to use my volunteering experiences as a way to gauge how I would enjoy working in the field.
Although I have fond memories of volunteering, I soon came to the conclusion that the veterinarian field was not suitable for me. As much as I enjoyed learning about animal science, my inherent skills were in the humanities. Even though I love working with animals, my passion for the humanities was and still is unrivaled.
Now that I am studying literature, some would say that I am back where I began. I beg to differ. My time spent volunteering was never wasted - not on me or on the organization. It is true that the plan of strategic volunteering was what motivated me to seek out these volunteering opportunities, but it was not what kept me volunteering. Volunteering forced me to step outside of my comfort zone and allowed me to feel a connection to my community. And I now have some really great memories to keep me company as I embark on a new path.
I do not think I have come full-circle, but rather, I believe I am back on track again after taking a very worthwhile detour.