The Cult of PSO

“What is PSO?”, you ask. It stands for Pre-Service Orientation. PSO is what all AmeriCorps VISTA members must attend before they take the oath and go to their work site. I, myself, don’t know that I would consider it training as it more resembles a series of workshops. Actually, it is a lot like camp! Remember when you were a kid and (if you had the opportunity) you went to summer camp for about a week? Usually there might be some kind of class, maybe a team building activity, with meals and free time thrown in. You didn’t always enjoy the classes, you didn’t like every single person you met, but by the end of the week you had made some friends and were really geared up! You left that camp expecting that super positive attitude would carry you through (at least until school started). Inevitably, you would get home, and over the next few days you struggled to keep the momentum going, and the friends that you swore you would keep in touch with were soon forgotten. That joyful drive that you felt at camp faded like a distant memory, and you could never really remember what had made you so happy and excited.

Still not understanding the use of the word “Cult” in the title? Welp, think about it! Cults tend to make people feel accepted and part of something larger (this is just what I’m getting from movies; I’ve never been in a cult). Cults draw people in, they love and nurture the spirit of the person and provide whatever might be lacking in their life. Eventually, you’re surrounded by people you feel have the same ideas as your own, and you’re drinking the Kool-Aid! Cults are so much like camps (and in turn, PSO) because they tend to make people feel at home and surrounded by people as excited as they are. Before they know it, they’re sharing personal stories, sad family history, and their hopes and dreams. The reason that cults are so successful is that they stay with that person; they draw them into their community and never let that euphoria die.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m NOT comparing AmeriCorps to a cult. But when I arrived at my site and came crashing down to reality, I gotta say…I was a little depressed and disappointed. I though I would be changing the world, and I know the saying is that the world changes one person at a time, but well…I’m impatient! But, to get back to things, I do have some wonderful memories of my PSO, and I would love to have a reunion with all the great people I met! Let me give you a rundown of the goings-on at a PSO. While a few VISTA’s that had already been serving were there, it is generally for people who have not yet served. The whole point of the Orientation is that you have a better idea of what you will be doing before you take the oath on the last day and dedicate your life for a year. It’s actually a pretty nice set-up. Travel is paid for, and though you have a roommate, the hotel is a nice one. All meals are provided (though by the end you want anything but what they give you), complete with snack and coffee breaks (YAY! Coffee!). And you only spend about half of the day with your assigned group mostly talking about poverty in all of its aspects. I still can’t figure out the logic of how they put the groups together! A lot of the people in my group were random, though most seemed to be serving in Nevada, Oregon, and strangely, we had three going to Alaska only one of which was a native. Anywhoo, there was a “sharing circle” where people shared things that even their close friends might not know, and some “breaking the ice” exercises. Let me say that one can only talk about poverty so much; much of the information felt like common sense or anything that a relatively educated person would know, therefore I was really bored by the end of the second day. In that way, it wasn’t so much of an orientation as it was an extended information session. However, I’m still really glad I got to experience it and to be completely honest, I had to fight from tearing up when we gave each other affirmations as we received our AmeriCorps pins. Soon after that, each group filed into the main room and damned if I didn’t let a tear drop as I took the oath.

“I do solemnly swear that I will support, defend, and uphold the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. That I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same. That I take this oath freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion. And that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office that I am about to enter, so help me god.

It’s been a couple of months now, and I’m feeling pretty hum-drum. I do have moments where I love what I’m doing, but those are the moments I spend with students, with the people my organization is teaching English. We both become excited at their small victories, and they thank me for what I’m doing. Sadly, that is only 10% of what I do, and the rest of the time I am left yearning for the cult-like exaltation I felt at PSO.

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