Tuesday, 3 March 2015

You don’t have to be crazy to live here but it helps: Ten insights into living and studying at IMC

Coming to live and study at IMC is certainly an interesting experience.  I don’t think you can ever be fully prepared for it!  Overall it is a fantastic place to be, however it does come with its challenges.  Read on for some insights from a few of the current mission trainees and staff who live, or have recently lived, at IMC.

1.    Downsizing your living space – IMC is a huge building, so this may seem an odd statement.  However it was my biggest challenge when I first arrived.  Despite knowing that I was going to have one ensuite single study-room to myself before I pulled into the IMC car park last September, I hadn't really expected to find it so difficult.  I really felt like I’d regressed 15 years and was back at university.  I pined for my seemingly palatial and spacious 2-bed flat that I’d left in Torquay.   Most people coming to live and study at IMC are likely to have downsized their living space to some degree and it takes some getting used to.

2.   Home vs. conference centre – for all of us mission trainees and some of the staff, IMC is home.  We live and study/work here.  However, IMC is not only our home and study/work place, it is also used as a conference centre for groups to hire out rooms for single or multiple day events.  This is a great use of IMC, as it’s a huge building and just having a few of us in it would be a waste of this fantastic resource.  However it is sometimes weird having external groups in, as well as living in community with fellow trainees and staff.  Below are some examples of how this can affect everyday life:
  • People looking through the windows of your home as they use the communal garden
  • Having to upgrade your nightwear from tatty to suave, in case of middle-of-the-night fire alarms or when you’ve gotten ready for bed and then remember you’re on the security rota (more on that later)
  • People putting their feet on tables or walls 
  • People leaving socks in reception
  • Forever opening doors for people as they pass through corridors
  • People turning on lights that you’ve purposely turned off and vice versa

3.   Communal laundry – we all do our laundry in one of two laundry areas within IMC, in the fabulous, stuff-it-all-in industrial-sized coin-operated washing machines.  There are numerous washing lines in order for us to dry our clothes.  This inevitably leads to us airing our clean laundry for all to see.  Communal living at its most rudimental!  This has led to one reported conversation, started in the laundry room, being temporarily halted due to one of the participants being flanked either side by a pair of Y fronts and the other not being able to engage seriously!!

4.  Meals – Kat, Linda, Jo, Sue, Jess and Christina do a wonderful job at preparing vast quantities of food (amongst their other duties) for the masses within IMC.  I have to admit I love having someone else to think up meal ideas; it’s really not my forte!  The food is a.maz.ing.  However if you’re not careful, this can have a negative effect on your waistline!  Food is generally eaten in the communal dining room.  Again this can be weird – who else regularly eats their dinner with between 10 and 50 other people?!  Those of us who are resident at IMC do have the option of eating in our flats or separate dining area which sometimes we do.  No disrespect to anyone else but sometimes you just need a bit of peace and quiet to eat your dinner. 

Dinner time at IMC

One perk of being a permanent IMC resident though are the leftovers!  

As so many people are catered for, lunch and dinner times are set at the same time each day.  This is fair enough as else it would turn into an organisational nightmare.  However I personally wouldn’t choose to eat my dinner at 5.30pm, and this is one example of where the give-and-take of community living comes in and the best meal time for the children of mission trainees rightly takes precedence.  This leads me on to....

5.   Rotas – I’m sure that trying to organise us mission trainees can sometimes feel like herding cats!  This combined with the ongoing running of IMC, therefore inevitably leads to rotas.  We have a timetable for our classes, a washing up rota, a toy tidy-up rota for parents, a who’s-leading-morning-prayers rota and a security rota where all permanent residents of IMC take a turn to check the building is secure each night for a week at a time.  Rotas.  An invention to try and organise the unorganised!!


6.    Friends  - at IMC there is always someone else around.  If you’re an extrovert this will be music to your ears.  If, like me, you’re naturally an introvert, sometimes you need your own space.  That’s fine but just bear in mind that someone may ask you to pop to their flat or go out somewhere and you have to be ok with saying ‘thanks but no thanks’ a fair few times.  Once everyone gets to know each other this becomes easier but at first it may feel draining.  One of the best things about IMC is that you don’t have to be alone if you don’t want to be and that’s something special.  Especially when you’re around other like-minded people who are all preparing to do overseas mission work and going through all the practical and emotional responses to this as you are.  One mission trainee positively describes IMC as a having a ‘pressure cooker effect on friendships’. 

7.   Transition time – IMC is a great place for us trainees to start the transition from our previous working lives to our overseas mission work lives.  We have space and time to devote to this as well as assigned and self study.  This is a real blessing and privilege and not one that we take for granted.  It does bring up issues of being unsettled though, given that we know from the outset that we’re only at IMC for a few months.   During IMC you can either be permanently unsettled or start to feel settled with the knowledge that the unsettled feeling is soon to occur again and that goodbyes could be harder as a result.

8.   Trying out new ideas and concepts – another positive aspect of being at IMC is the opportunity to experience new expressions of faith in a ‘safe’ environment.  We have recently had the chance to learn about and practice Ignatian spirituality and Celtic spirituality, which are both ways of expressing and developing our Christian faith and communion with God using reflection and solitude.  Taking time out of busy lives and schedules and making space to communicate with God is a new discipline which I personally hope to work on and use.

9.   Bringing up children with other people watching – many of my fellow mission trainees have children.  Everyone who has children will sometimes feel they’re ‘being watched’ as they interact with their offspring in public places.  However most people can retreat to the privacy of their own home for big chunks of time should they wish.  Here at IMC, each family has their own flat, but having communal meal times and generally sharing a lot of living space such as the garden and lounge, means that there is often someone else around when a child is playing or eating nicely - and not so nicely.  My friends tell me that this can feel like they are constantly ‘on show’ as parents, with other people being able to watch, and possibly silently judge, how they are interacting with their child.  It can also lead to other adults ‘pitching in’ and trying to ‘help’ the parents to discipline or encourage their child.

On the positive side though, the children themselves love having so many friends who are more-or-less constantly available to play!

10. There’s always a reason to celebrate – being around so many people, there is often a reason to celebrate, and who doesn’t like a good party?!  Since we started in September we’ve had a baby shower, a Christmas party and numerous birthday parties.  Oh and a ‘friendly’ (not at all competitive) table-tennis tournament where all contestants won a prize.  It’s a joy to join with others to celebrate and mark special occasions in the life of our community!

Katie's birthday, February 2015

Life at IMC is never dull or boring!  It can feel a strange existence at times and also like you’re living in a bubble that’s one-step removed from what we previously knew as reality.  However being here is great training for going overseas and I know I’m going to miss it when we all leave.

With thanks to my fellow mission trainees and the staff at IMC for their contributions towards this article

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