The term “book smart” has taken a lot of flak, especially in modern culture. The misguided perception is that a person who has book smarts can’t deal with a lot because books don’t always teach students how to navigate in the real world. Theory without practice becomes useless in real life, they say. But what we should realize is that application of what we learn in books comes only when we seek out opportunities to apply these theories, especially opportunities that enrich the personality as well as the mind.
Before we get to how volunteering can help you apply your book smarts effectively and practically, let’s discuss “street smarts”. This term has been thought to mean learning how to move through an environment where you will have to face the harsh realities of life, like a crowded urban neighborhood. But of course, it covers more than the literal meaning.
You have street smarts if you know:
- how to defend yourself when you have to
- how to deal with danger in an unfamiliar environment, and
- how to avoid a potentially dangerous environment in the first place.
While all these are true, being street smart also means:
- your common sense is well developed
- you can deal with many types of people
- you can take the high road in confrontations, especially when you know you’re putting yourself
in danger if you do anything that could provoke a fight
- you’re independent, and
- you can come up with the right decisions quickly, especially when hesitating could do
more harm than good
Volunteering can help you apply what you learn in school in a real life setting. You’ll receive extensive training, as volunteers are treated like paid employees when it comes to developing the skills needed for the job. You will deal with many types of people, especially if the organization you join exposes you to different cultures. Depending on the tasks you will be given, you will also learn how to be more organized and how to work with others to get the job done.
You will gain insight on how other volunteers have handled various cases, like in institutions where volunteers are asked to help the elderly and kids. Meeting people that have been at it for a longer time can improve your perspective about the job. From your first day as a volunteer, you can learn a lot by simply observing how others work.
Professionalism, grace under pressure, insight on human interactions, and working effectively as a part of a team are just some of the things the books don’t teach you. Moreover, you will be able to see the big picture. You will realize that you can make a difference in someone’s life, and that there’s a world outside the four corners of your home and the walls of your school. You can “practice” for your future life and career by simply signing up to become a teen volunteer.
It won’t be easy, and you will surely meet people that are not always nice to you. There are all types of personalities out there, after all. You will also need to be committed enough to keep at it regardless of the challenges. It’s hard work. But the lessons you will take from the experience are invaluable to your development as a person.