<originally posted on the NU Chronicle>
For Spring Break 2015, I traveled to Denver, CO with 9 other strangers to help out at Florence Crittenton Services, a high school in Denver for teen moms, with a connected daycare.
We came back more tight-knit than I ever could have imagined.
Alternative Student Breaks, a service-learning organization at Northwestern, sends students on trips to “heighten students’ social awareness” (a quote from the website). ASB allows us to experience social issues as a reality and in turn, help them become more responsible leaders in their community.
Trips happen for a week during Winter and Spring breaks, as well as during Pre-Wildcat Welcome Week at various locations around the country.
Here are 7 reasons everyone should consider going on a trip like that:
1. The people
ASB was the only way I would have met most of the people who were on the trip with me. We were a relatively diverse group of strangers who lived in different areas of campus, with a handful of mutual friends each.
It turns out that ASB purposely tries not to put friends in the same group, which explains why Lisette’s request to be on the same trip as me was denied. Looking back, I wonder how having a friend would have affected my willingness to meet other people on the trip.
2. The drive
Do you like roadtripping? Do you at least like music? You would have loved the 16-hour drive our group took to Denver over the course of two days. The passengers talked a lot, I stared out of the window a bunch, and observe the change in state culture as we passed from state to state. I also managed to add 2 feet to the scarf I was knitting!
But most importantly, we bonded over both mutual and differing music tastes, and I managed to light up the aux cord a great deal.
It’s not just about the destination, but also about the journey. That’s tough to remember when you’re always in a rush to get from point A to point B in college.
3. Getting away from college
As much as I love Northwestern (and I really do), I started to get sick of campus towards the end of winter quarter, and really just felt that I needed to get away. Spring break was the perfect time to do so, because I had no academic obligations, as the quarter had just ended.
During the trip, a pair of students cooked dinner for everyone else every night. It was great to be on the ~~serving side of the spoon~~, so to speak, and to chop onions, cook chicken, and just get my hands busy.
We slept in churches. Staying in a hotel would be too reminiscent of a vacation, and this is not why we drove 16 hours to Denver. Our leaders sought the help of churches in Colorado and Nebraska, which graciously offered us shower and sleeping areas.
Have you ever slept in a church before? I hadn’t…
4. The area
I’d never been to Denver prior to this trip. Interesting hubbub about this city led me to pick this site as my #1 choice. While we were there, we spent the morning/early afternoons tending to babies, but spent the rest of the day slowly becoming more intimate with the tourist trips of the city.
We visited the Denver Botanic Gardens, the Denver Art Museum, the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, the State Capitol and more.
I’d thrive in a place like Denver after graduating college. The city life is beautifully contrasted with the gorgeous, mysterious mountain range that always seems to peep up in the background. The atmosphere is overall very suited for an individual like myself…
5. Your time is best spent doing something like this
How else might you spend your spring break?
On campus with nothing to do? Though it’d be awesome to explore your college town without a deadline looming, I would grow restless before three days passed, though that’s just me.
If you went home, it’s likely that none of your friends would be in town because literally no one else is on the quarter system. Besides, your siblings might be in school, and you can’t spend your time working any sort of meaningful job for just a week.
“Nah, girl, I’m going on an expensive vacation with friends to waste a bunch of money!” Sounds like a bunch of fun, but if you’re looking to do something that doesn’t cost a fortune but is more enjoyable and worthwhile, consider ASB.
6. Making somewhat of a difference
For our trip, we helped out at Florence Crittenton Services, a high school in Denver for teen moms, with a connected daycare. We worked primarily with the babies, but didn’t even change their diapers.
Each of us recapped our day with “highs”, “lows”, and “ha’s”. We didn’t just recount the highlights of our day, but we also shared disappointments and frustrations with each other, starting discussions that helped us grow closer.
We all definitely lamented that we probably weren’t making much of a difference in anyone’s lives. But surely we were not the type to climb back in our mini van, drive 16 hours back to Evanston, and forget about what we just spent a week doing??
But what exactly were we doing? We were helping teen moms do a job they do everyday. We felt so high and mighty holding babies belonging to what could have been our little sisters/
We weren’t saviors. Our help probably wasn’t desperately needed, simply based on the skills and experience we so lacked.
We did make a small difference though. We helped temporarily alleviate the stress for a short period of time. That is fair enough to say. And the trip made us aware of important issues… :)
7. The aftermath
One of the most meaningful activities our group did was tell each other our life stories. This entailed everyone sitting in a circle, showing nothing but utter respect and acceptance as members bared all to tell us everything fortunate they’d experienced, and everything awful they’d endured in life.
After hearing people’s stories, I felt like I knew them a lot better than I had previously. Even now, back in college, seeing one of your fellow ASB members on the street or in a dining hall is like seeing a whole life story behind their smile that you know, that likely few of their other friends know.
After all, they took the time to voluntarily sit down and tell you everything they could think about their life.
So hopefully you apply for a trip, and get accepted. Hopefully you attend the trip with an open mind. I hope the trip helps you not only to embrace everyone’s differences, but also learn to love them. I hope that you will bond over the one guaranteed similarity you all have in common, the mission of the site you’re visiting.