I have an unfortunate tendency to dread the trips I take before they happen. The Sunday morning I left for Texas to do service with Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) was no different.

I had done two MDS trips before; those were some of the best days of my life thus far. This time, however, I was drained from the first half of the university semester.

Emma Siemens (right) took on Texas over reading week, along with her fellow CMU students

To be honest, what I really wanted to do over reading week—if I was to go away—was to be back at home or on a beach, sleeping. But I got up the Sunday morning of departure and met my fellow CMU students at the airport.

As soon as the plane took off, that regretful feeling never returned. When we arrived that evening in Wharton, about two hours south of Houston, I was ready to go. The next morning we were up and working on the job sites.

While other crews completed different tasks, I painted the interior of houses all week long. Although I like discussing, reading, and writing about ideas—the way I normally spend my days—it felt good to use my body, instead of my mind, to accomplish the tasks at hand.

It was also a reminder for me to take better care of myself. As university students are prone to do, I tend to neglect my body far too easily as a student. I don’t eat or drink enough, or get enough sleep. That wasn’t an option while with MDS! Working at painting all week was a valuable reminder that I need to take care of my body at all times. This is something I will remember in the mentally gruelling weeks to come.

Along with a reminder to take better care of myself, I was reminded to continue to be open to new people and experiences.

The group of ten CMU students and staff that went on the trip was diverse, with students from multiple faculties and nationalities. Other volunteers at the project were also different. The female CMU students shared a dorm room with a group of Old Order Mennonite women, and two of the project leaders were American retirees.

In other words, the people I interacted with throughout the week were unlike most people I connect with at home—and it was great. It was a valuable experience to be part of such a varied group of people working side-by-side for the greater good.

I also discovered what it meant for people like our group to come to help. During a conversation with a member of the local recovery committee, I learned how much respect local people have for volunteers who devote time to helping with reconstruction. It made me feel good to have given a bit of my time to MDS.

This week of new and worthwhile experiences came to an end too quickly, and the farewell was an emotional one. The connections we had made and the work we had done together was too genuinely good for it not to be that way. To think that I had been dreading this trip before I left feels strange to me now. I could not have predicted most of the experiences I had on this trip. The work we did, the people we met, and the place we lived filled me with a new and unforeseen beauty.

Emma Siemens is a 2nd year Social Sciences student.