Every Spring, the University of Oklahoma puts the biggest volunteer event in the state, and we aptly call it The Big Event. Students volunteer through groups that they’re involved in, and the groups that participate range from Greek organizations to Botany Club to groups of students who aren’t even affiliated with student groups but who just wanted to volunteer. Thousands of students participate, devoting their Saturday to several causes all across the state of Oklahoma.
This year, I volunteered with OU Cousins for The Big Event, and even though it was a lot of work and we faced some difficulties getting supplies, I had so much fun.
OU Cousins volunteered our time this year at the Whinery Ranch, which is where we host our biggest event at the end of the year, the OU Cousins BBQ. I was one of two group leaders for our group, and my step dad graciously lent me his huge truck so I could help transport OU Cousins and our supplies to the worksite. This truck came in extremely handy, and ought to be considered the hero of the day.
Before The Big Event begins, all of the participants gather in the North Oval for check-in and free breakfast at 8:30am. As I said, there are thousands of students who get involved every year, so the oval was covered in a sea of shining OU faces and white T-shirts.
We had about 20-25 people volunteer through OU Cousins, so once the opening ceremony was over, we all split into smaller groups for rides to the ranch. My group was also assigned to stop by the Stephenson Research Center to pick up our supplies, which I was told would be about 15 rakes, 15 shovels, and 30 pairs of gloves.
The wait for supplies was unending. At one point, the line of cars stretched out along Jenkins almost to Imhoff, which for those of you who might not be able to gauge the distance, is just entirely too long of a line. While we were waiting, I really got to know the three Chinese students who were unlucky enough to be stuck waiting with me.
My new friends April, Ming, and Yiyun, all came from different universities in China but had gotten to know each other well during the school year. They were also all completely flabbergasted by the immense size of the truck I was driving; they had never been in a vehicle so large. During the long wait, we talked about a range of topics.
Mostly, I asked them cultural questions, because I am always so curious and haven’t had such an opportune opportunity to sit down and speak with Chinese students. Their absolute favorite part about America—and this is kind of sad—is the fresh, clean air. The urban areas of China where they are from are so heavily polluted, that coming to America opened their eyes (and lungs) to good clean air for the first time in a long time. And they got to spend the whole year breathing it in! This answer really amazed me, because it’s something that I have been aware of, but not something that I ever deeply thought about. Who thought that clean air, a basic human necessity, would be someone’s favorite part about America? For many people from China, what I would consider to be the most polluted place on the continent, it makes sense.
The thing they disliked most about America did not surprise me—the food. They missed their favorite dishes from home, and they really did not enjoy American “food” at all. In fact, Ming revealed that she completely refused to eat American food, because it was so bad it made her sick. This often leads to her being hungry throughout the day, which I found to be really unfortunate. I could empathize with her experience, though. When I went to Tanzania and had amazing fresh food for a month, it was difficult to come home, because the food really does not compare. Luckily, my three new friends all lived in apartments where they could cook their own food.
As we inched closer to the research center to pick up supplies, I got a call from Emily, the current student director of OU Cousins. One person with our group had arrived to the North oval late, and was left behind. We were assigned to pick her up after we picked up our supplies. I felt bad, because it would be a long time before we could go back and get her, but everyone else had already arrived at the Ranch.
After about 30 minutes of nice conversation, we finally made it to the pick-up site. Unfortunately, we encountered a problem: our supplies were nowhere to be found. One Big Event organizer told us that our supplies had already been picked up, but then a few minutes later someone came by and told us that we hadn’t requested supplies. It was all very confusing and incorrect, because we obviously were in need of supplies and had requested them, and I was the person who was assigned to pick them up. After a few minutes of calls back and forth to Emily, and not-so-knowledgeable organizers, we were told to wait and we would be given some extra supplies. The haul we were eventually given was far less than what we needed: two shovels, six rakes, and thirty gloves. However, it was something, and then we were on our way back to the North oval to pick up our stranded OU Cousin.
Much to our surprise, the stranded member ended up being Ming and Yiyun’s cousin! Her name is Jess, and she is fluent in Chinese, which I admire. Once we picked her up, we were off again, finally toward the Whinery Ranch, if only about an hour and a half late.
Once we got to the ranch, it was business as usual. We dispersed our meager supplies, and I was put in charge of Ranch transport because of the truck. The Whinerys have a big estate, so it was necessary to drive around and check on the status of groups, and pick people up and move them to other sites when they completed tasks. Toward the end though, I got the chance to get my hands dirty. We raked leaves off of the side of the road into huge piles, hauled fallen branches and sticks into piles, and cleared away the weeds and grass at the bottom of the front fence. It was a lot of work, but it was a beautiful day. Also, we found that there is no better way to bond with people than to perform manual labor together!
When all of our tasks were completed, we broke for lunch and more conversation. It was truly amazing how volunteering brought us all closer together, and bonded us as a small international family. I made a lot of new friends from China to Australia to the good ol’ US of A. The Big Event with OU Cousins was a highlight of my year.