Didn’t I Have A Wonderful Time at the American Museum!
October 18, 2016 - Sharon Blanchard
Every year we welcome students from far and wide to intern with us here at the American Museum. Tamira joined us for a month this summer from her home in Switzerland and shares her experiences in this blog.
“For the last month, I’ve had the privilege to volunteer at the American Museum. It started off with a mixture of anticipation and nervousness, two emotions that blend together to create something explosive. Except that didn’t quite happen! I was taken aback by the force of my shyness when confronted with visitors, the words sticking in my throat as they peered at me with curiosity. I remember feeling quite hopeless the first three days, asking myself what exactly I was trying to achieve if I could not even open my mouth to intrigue the visitors into learning about the rooms. It is difficult to truly explain what it felt like the first time I did manage to say something. One moment I was standing in Greek Revival, my heart fluttering wildly in my chest as I watched a group of strangers approach, the next moment I was gesturing around the room, pointing out small details as if I was introducing a close friend and relishing in the fact that people were learning from the words I spoke. This was how my experience began turning into something wonderful, unravelling from the moment when I understood that I was capable of doing something I never thought I could.
As a volunteer, I was presented with many opportunities to do something exciting. One day, I was assigned to help photograph and handle some hat boxes from the 1800s, a responsibility not lost on me considering the fact that I was completely aware that I was handling historic relics which were once taken for granted a couple hundred years ago. Another day I’d be going around interviewing visitors and volunteers about their experience in the Museum. The most memorable day of my time at the Museum was when I was asked to take over the American Museum’s twitter account to participate in the Teen Takeover Twitter day that takes place annually. I had my doubts about this, mostly to do with me not being a very entertaining person whom would most likely make a fool of herself. Therefore, it took me greatly by surprise when people started animatedly commenting on my tweets. I was deeply regretting posting a picture talking about a ‘chocolate looking George Washington statue that is actually a stove’, when I had somebody respond to me saying that I was funny! It was a hectic day, running about the Museum, passing over creaky floor boards in my haste to snap pictures, but I had great fun doing it.
I had the responsibility to represent the American Museum, and that was not something I was willing to disappoint with. From building huts out of leaves, to playing magic tricks with children, to handing out surveys with trembling fingers, to typing and clicking away at a computer screen, to taking pictures of different objects in the museum, to helping guide cars to park, to telling people about the rooms they were currently visiting, to hunting down as many George Washington’s as I could, I explored the nook and crannies of the Museum, travelling in time through years that helped shaped what we are today, becoming for one small instance a part of the fabric that runs the Museum itself, part of the system that helps it come alive, part of the network of people that mould history into the palm of their hands and hand it out for the sole purpose of helping other people appreciate everything there is to see. And really, something that left me quite amazed in my whole experience was the people. Admittedly, I did not talk much, in fact, I tended to burrow back into the dip of my chair and offer small smiles instead of my voice when people looked my way. However there is something about not being directly thrown into the mix of things that helps one see what is going on from an outside point of view. What I saw were the people who willingly came into the museum to help by their own accord, learning and sharing their thoughts with strangers so that they may be as passionate as they themselves are about history. I met a volunteer called Wendy, a twenty year old student, whom became a companion when I least expected it, and whom always seemed content with what she was assigned to do, regardless of the situation. I also gained another companion, Veronica, whom I had the pleasure to talk to on several occasions, and who proved to be lovely and open minded, a friend in the unlikeliest of ways. And the best thing about these people is that they gave me a sense of confidence about what I was doing, and about why I was doing it. I was working in the American Museum to help people learn and to appreciate the events we usually don’t spend much time thinking about. Knowing that you’re contributing to people acquiring new knowledge is pretty incredible.
This experience of volunteer work has been far more than I could have imagined. I came to the realisation that I can learn how to speak just that little bit louder, so that I can be heard, so that I do not have to curl into myself. I’ve had the chance to improve my photo-shopping skills in the curatorial department, something I had previously thought I was absolutely useless at. And one of the most fundamental things I’ve learned is that communicating with other people isn’t as daunting as it seems, and that I can learn from anyone who is willing to open their mouths and say something. Maybe people can start learning things from me.
I was sitting in Greek Revival after the Textile Fair, a day that had been full of rushing about for everyone, a non-stop trajectory till closing time, and it was five minutes till the end of the day. Rich suddenly passes by, pretty out of breath and he just takes a moment to ask if I’m all right, telling me that he is absolutely knackered. He says something which stuck with me, and which I later on wrote down because of the way he said it, with a small smile and a contemplative expression. “It is days like this that make it all worthwhile”. I thought it was an absolutely lovely thing to say, and I have come to the conclusion that it was the zeal of the people I got the chance to work alongside with that made it all worth it.”
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