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Marjorie Russell's 'double life' (with audio)

If adoption in Romania were possible. Russell said she would have come back as a mother. Courtesy of OSVS.Related content (audio option)

Listen to Russell describe her civic engagement in terms of: Impacting the orphans / Complications of service / Hope for the world / Engagement at William and Mary / Greek life, sports and civic engagement (all files are mp3).

Junior Marjorie Russell recently led a group of William and Mary students to serve at an orphanage at Dr. Nicolaescu Hospital in Tutova, Romania. The students interacted with the 36 residents of the institution for two weeks. Following is a first-person article by Russell in which she describes that service. She calls her piece "The Double Life I Lead."   —Ed.

The Double Life I Lead

I just returned from Romania, working in a clinic for sick and disabled children, many of whom have been abandoned. The wounds of falling in love with these children and then leaving are still fresh. I miss them so very much, as if they were my own. If international adoption were still an option in Romania, trust me, I would have come back a mother.

For me, the hardest part about service trips is the knowledge that I have to come home. It’s the knowledge that after a few weeks I must return to the “venti, half-caf, non-fat, caramel-macchiatos-with-no-whip-cream” Starbucks lifestyle. It’s returning to people, some of whom are even friends that are ignorant of anything past the 6 inches in front of their faces and cannot understand. I feel so alienated from my own country every time I return.

It’s almost comical the double life I lead. While I’m in the United States I am an average, class-attending, "Grey’s Anatomy"-watching, overly-emotional, 20 year old woman. But abroad, among dirt and grime and disease and poverty, I transform into an impassioned, protesting, fire-filled person. It must be the people.

If you look past any nation’s statistics—its GDP, its exports and imports, how many chain stores it has—a nation is comprised of just people. I have learned throughout my service travels that I am so truly inspired by the people of developing nations. They are so joyous just to be alive. They are unadulterated by mass commercialism. They do not complain that there is no air conditioning or that the pickle was left on their burger and they asked for no pickle. They are happy to wake up with the sun every morning. They are what secretly keep me going while in America. And for most of them, they would give up so much just to reach America. It’s not even a country for them, it’s an idea of freedom and happiness and wealth. I’m not sure if I take for granted what I am given, or if maybe America is more complicated than that ideal they yearn for. Maybe it’s a lot of both.

Honestly, service complicates my life. It makes me stubborn and angry and frustrated that I cannot do more or that I cannot truly fix the problems. I have a hard time talking to some people who simply don’t understand. I would rather work on fundraising than study, and sometimes I should just really be studying. It takes up my time, my energy, my money, my tears, my sweat, and my life. But I cannot and will not give it up. It has become part of who I am. Every child in the clinic that smiled when we arrived and cried when we left has become part of me. The town’s people on their horse-drawn carts who would stare at us and eventually wave and smile are part of me. My team members that were changed forever by the things they saw are part of me. Service trips have opened up the possibility of not just being an American citizen, but a citizen of the world.

Right now I cannot pick up everything and go travel the world. I cannot move to Africa or Eastern Europe or South America, however much I would like to. I know that I always have a choice, but for now I have to pay my dues in college and hopefully medical school so that I can make the most impact possible. And my actions may not be huge or great on a global scale, not even on a national scale. But it’s not necessarily about one person’s actions, it’s about the domino effect that occurs because of one person’s actions. There is a famous image of a water drop falling into a pool of water and the ripples it causes. My life is all about the ripples.