It is not very often that college students are willing to deprive themselves of a Spring Break of complete relaxation and laziness. However, as students choose to take charge of this week off every spring, and make a conscious choice to do something against the norm, they often find themselves with a new purpose and passion.
This is the concept behind Alternative Spring Breaks. These week-long service trips take place at over 300 institutions across the U.S. and have a wide reach across the nation and globe. Here at Rollins, our Immersion program, Citizens Take Action, looks to deliver holistic experiences that revolve around a key socioeconomic issue, and work toward understanding through a combination of strong education and direct service.
I am currently one of the student coordinators for this program, and have been planning one of the two alternative spring break trips since November. My trip lasted from Saturday through the following Friday and centered around the issue of immigration. In order to obtain a comprehensive view of this very complex and controversial topic, I decided to place this trip in the Miami area, due to its rich culture and the prevalence of immigrants in the area.
Throughout this week-long experience, a group of 11 students, two faculty members and myself worked primarily with the Farmworkers Association of Florida, The Art Studio in Little Haiti and Immigration Court of Miami.
The Farmworkers Association chapter in Homestead is one of the anchors of the state’s organization, and provides both advocacy and support to the largely ignored and repressed farmworker community in Florida. Through this partnership, we learned of the unique issues facing this surprisingly large population in the state, and were able to directly participate in nursery work, pesticide training, tutoring of the children of farmworkers and community gatherings.
Following two days focusing on the rural aspect of the immigration issue we shifted our focus to the more urban side within the city of Miami. In particular, we worked in the Little Haiti community which is an enclave for recent and historical Haitian immigrants, and one of the most impoverished areas of the city. Within this community we worked in great depth with the Art Studio of Miami, which is an organization that uses the arts to empower youth in the most impoverished area of the Little Haitian community to excel in all academic disciplines and foster their creativity.
To bring the trip full circle, we ended our week by partnering with the Immigration Court of Miami. During this powerful experience we were exposed to the unique judicial system provided for immigrants in the U.S. We shadowed a variety of cases, ranging from asylum trials to standard status hearings. Working closely with very supportive legal clerks, the group was able to reflect and absorb all the information presented to us throughout the day, and we walked away with a greater appreciation and wholesome understanding of the immigration issue.
Becoming a part of the Immersion program has been one of the most rewarding experiences for me during my time at Rollins. Through my involvement I have been able to develop a great deal of practical skills, but more importantly, I have been able to transform both myself and others by participating in these experiences. There continues to be a stigma that “real” Spring Breaks are meant to be spent at crazy beach parties or lounging around watching reruns. However, once a person takes the leap of faith and participates in these immersion experiences, they oftentimes emerge as a more re-invigorated and knowledgeable individual with a greater sense of both themselves and their relation to their community.