Many students are looking forward to summer break, visiting family, going to the beach, or just relaxing with friends. Some may have done something similar for spring break, but 31 undergraduate USF students of various ages and majors chose an alternative route. Through University Ministry’s Arrupe Justice Immersion program, students were given the option to spend a week in Colombia, El Salvador, Peru, or West Virginia.
“[The trips] allow students to get a better feel for the rest of the world,” said Courtney Armani, junior chemistry student, highlighting that the experiences she gained on this immersion trip are much different from those travelling as a tourist.
The program began in 1996 under professor Michael Duffy of the Joan and Ralph Lane Center. for Catholic Studies and Social Thought. The program offers students the opportunity to spend their spring break immersing themselves in another culture and a foreign way of life, while exploring new perspectives on social justice. Upon their return, many students affirmed that the trips helped them gain insight into different ways of living.
“If you travel alone you’re not going to do all that stuff,” Armani said,“but if you’re traveling in a group or through the University you have a whole bunch of other opportunities that you wouldn’t otherwise have.”
Armani, who went to Cali, Colombia, along with eight other participants, divided her time between learning about the internally displaced people in the country’s rural regions and spending time with children within the city of Cali.
Knowledge of each region’s history and how it has affected its inhabitants has been a major focus of the immersion trips during the last ten years.
“We wanted to work with professors and focus on community- based learning in the Jesuit tradition,” said Kique Bazan, associate director of Global Social Justice and Community Action. “There are ways of learning from communities, but in the Jesuit tradition there is something very specific…it’s about learning the dreams of the communities we are connecting with.”
Understanding the idea of accompaniment which implies immersion rather than service, was a theme in each of the immersion trips, from rural Appalachia to the South American rainforest.
“The idea since the beginning wasn’t to better their lives, but to learn from them,” said Valeria Vera, a first year international studies major who traveled to Peru wrote of the experience. Vera said speaking with Peruvians about how they live gave her “more of that power to actually go back and help them to accomplish what they need.”
Students who traveled to West Virginia, learned of the environmental struggles of those living in the rural areas of Appalachia. “We want to get into the issues of the environment that connect to social justice,” said Bazan.
In Peru, students typically focus on the issue of street children and their susceptibility to become victims of human trafficking. In the aftermath of war and violence, both the group to El Salvador and Colombia learned how wars in those countries affected those living in local societies, and how they are now working to better their lives.
Bazan said University Ministry’s goal is to permanently establish the four trips and continue to offer them to students each year. Bazan added that other trips may be designed in the future, but that trips are usually determined by the donations received and the needs of each community, as well as the social justice issue University Ministry would like to promote.
Many students who participate in the programs conclude the trips not only give new perspective, but also affect the rest of their educational experience.
Erika Myszynski, a USF graduate who participated in an immersion to Peru, said the experience offers students something they can’t find inside a classroom. She said, “An immersion trip is something unimaginable until you go…it makes things more real, it makes the world kind of like a family.”
Students interested in participating in summer Arrupe Justice Immersions and receiving class credit can contact Kique Bazan at