When senior Rachel Byrnes came to John Carroll University, she knew she wanted to experience something that would challenge her.
“I wanted to experience someplace I had never been before and would completely throw me outside of my comfort zone,” Byrnes said.
Byrnes applied to go on a 2014 immersion trip her junior year. Immersion trips are planned jointly through Campus Ministry and the Center for Service and Social Action. These seven to 10 day trips are domestic and international.
Potential student participants fill out an online application that includes five short essays. Students then complete an in-person interview with one of the student trip coordinators. Students are notified by email if they have been selected.
The prices of the trips vary, and students are encouraged to ask for financial assistance from friends and family. By asking for donations, students can alleviate their financial burden, and donors have the opportunity to fund a unique experience.
In addition to the student participants, two faculty or staff members also attend each trip.
According to the immersion experience Web page, immersion teams explore “issues of poverty and injustice while experiencing unique cultures and environments. Students engage in direct service activities, participate in experiential learning and make educational site visits – while living in the very communities that they are serving.”
For her first immersion trip in January 2014, Byrnes and her group went to Guatemala.
“While we were there, we met with a couple of families who lived and worked in a garbage dump community and helped to paint classrooms in a school located just outside of the neighborhood,” Byrnes added.
After her first trip, Byrnes applied and was accepted to be a student coordinator for the group who traveled to Nicaragua this past January.
Coordinator of Health Education and Promotion Megan Dzurec recalled one of her favorite memories from her experience as a staff leader on the Immokalee, Florida trip during spring break 2014.
“One morning, [junior] Megan Hobart and I were assigned to paint the doorways of the homes of migrant workers. In all of the U.S., I’m not sure two shorter Megans could’ve been paired to paint doorways,” said Dzurec. “We didn’t have ladders. We simply reached as high as we could to coat the door frames. We laughed all morning. The small stucco homes are such a source of pride for the residents, and from what I heard, the owners were especially thrilled that their doors were freshly painted bright orange.”
Senior Mariah White also traveled to Immokalee on the 2014 spring break trip and commented on her experience.
“The Immokalee immersion experience is designed to challenge your outlook on controversial issues,” said White. “The biggest piece of advice I can give to this year’s participants is to let those experiences affect you. Let what you see next week seep into your heart.”
The Immersion program revolves around five values exemplifying the University’s Jesuit goals and standards. There are educational components in learning and “examining economic, historic, and sociopolitical issues that affect people and the environment globally,” according to the immersion trip Web page.
There is a service component since students recognize the importance meeting the needs of those they serve on the trips. Immersion trips also offer a spirituality component allowing students to explore their faith through social action and social justice. Finally, these trips allow students to learn more about community by teaching them how to build meaningful relationships.
Byrnes believes that these five pillars of the immersion trips are present and accomplished, no matter where a group goes.
“Some locations have more service to them than others – New Orleans, Honduras – while others focus more on building community and learning about the city you are in – Nicaragua, El Salvador,” said Byrnes. “However, all of the pillars are present in some way in every location that is offered.”
Senior Steve Henderson expressed a similar take on his experiences in Louisville, Nicaragua and Honduras.
“The five goals are heavily emphasized within the preparation period, and I believe are so natural to the immersion experience,” said Henderson. “It’s pretty hard to go on an immersion trip and not be enriched in those five aspects.”
During spring break, groups will be going to Appalachia, Louisville and Immokalee for immersion trips.
Applications are now available for December 2015 and January 2016, where students will have a chance to travel to El Salvador, Nicaragua or New Orleans. Information is available on the JCU website.
Byrnes’ trips to both Guatemala and Nicaragua have been the highlights of her four years at JCU. She recommends that anyone who has the opportunity should apply.
“These trips are a way to take everything that you have learned at John Carroll and about the Jesuit mission and experience something completely new and challenging. They give you the chance to see the world in a brand new way and meet people that will touch your life in an incredibly inspiring way.”