This year, I wanted to do something different for fall break. While my usual week in the sun in Newport is a blast, I wanted something more. Fortunately, I remembered the Bennion Center’s Alternative Breaks program because, without being too dramatic, this trip changed my views and my sense of being a productive member in society.
After browsing the many different experiences the Bennion Center offers, I chose the Immigration trip in San Diego. As I completed my application, I already felt out of my comfort zone. I grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, and had little personal awareness of immigration issues in our country. I am not an immigrant, nor is anyone in my immediate family. As October approached I grew more anxious about this experience, feeling very uneducated about this issue I was about to spend a week fully immersed in. But then the morning of departure arrived when twelve of us piled into vans and set off. The first real experience of Alternative Breaks is spending 12 hours in a car with 12 stangers. I was surprised at how quickly I became comfortable with my team members, regardless of our various majors, ages, backgrounds, and experiences.
As the week started I was filled with questions. The people in my group all seemed to grasp the concept of immigration, but I still felt in the dark about basic elements of immigration. I worked up the courage to ask my group, “How does someone cross the border? How does our country know if they are coming to the U.S for good or bad? What does seeking asylum mean?” These obvious questions were new to me, and as soon as I opened up to my group about my lack of awareness, they all embraced and supported me in my week of learning. I was never laughed at or looked down at for not knowing these simple facts about immigration. As the days passed our community partners in San Diego answered all our questions and exposed us to the raw reality of people attempting to immigrate into the U.S.
We were humbled at the kindness that the community partners and every person we encountered radiated. I have never been asked where I was from, I have never had to flee my home country for my life, I have never been told I was a threat to my country. Many of the people we met along the week had experienced all these things multiple times and still embraced me and my silly questions with open arms. It wasn’t until I sat in a room listening to a beautiful woman’s story, sharing tears about the horrific situations and centers we put immigrants in, that the reality of immigration deeply impacted me.
After spending a week with an amazingly diverse group of people, sharing experiences, serving others, I have a new awareness of this critical issue. And I am motivated to help those around me be more aware of immigration policy, the system, and the way it impacts lives. I have had a rare opportunity to be immersed into lives and organizations fighting for social justice, to learn from fellow students with different life experiences than mine, and to think of my own path in a new light. This is such a valuable part of studying at the U that I am already planning my next trip!
Knowledge is power and I am grateful that the Bennion Center offers students these experiences that expand our knowledge beyond the classroom. Alternative Breaks expand the types of college experiences available to students, can truly change lives, and are not to be missed!