University of San Diego students are enjoying some of a college student’s favorite words for this time of year: spring break. But many USD students put a twist on the typical spring break festivities by doing service projects.
Senior Julie Campagna, an international relations and theology double major and Spanish minor at USD, said that for the fourth year in a row she will be in Tijuana, Mexico. â€œItâ€™s a lot of fun.â€
Valerie Lizarraga, a senior sociology and history double major, is going on the same Tijuana trip, but it will be her first trip there since her freshman year at USD. â€œIt was definitely a great trip,â€ she recalled. â€œIt was a great opportunity for me to meet other people.â€
Count these two students among those that Michael Lovette-Colyer, director of USDâ€™s University Ministry, speaks of when he hears them say the Tijuana spring break trip is â€œone of the most important events of their time at USD.â€
Colyer, Campagna and Lizarraga are among a group of 27 students and University Ministry staff who are participating in USDâ€™s March 6-12 Tijuana Spring Break Immersion trip. The excursion gives the students an opportunity to immerse themselves in a new setting, new culture and a new way of thinking.
â€œThe purpose of our trip to Tijuana is to develop a sense of solidarity with the people of Mexico with new eyes,â€ Colyer says. â€œThe idea is â€˜can we imagine what it looks like to be on that side of the border and look this way?â€™ The way we do that is spending time with people however we can. Weâ€™ll do service every day, wherever itâ€™s needed. On Sunday we start the day by going to mass with members of the community, allowing students to see a different culture and expression of spirituality. Weâ€™ll do service in the community and, later, weâ€™ll have a dinner party. Theyâ€™ll help us cook the dinner. Weâ€™ll eat with them and spend time talking and getting to know them.â€
Colyer, who went on his first USD Tijuana spring break trip in 2008, said service projects include erecting and painting fences, physical labor at the townâ€™s community center and helping with roofing work on area houses.
â€œItâ€™s really hopeful and consoling. Itâ€™s a story that deserves to be told to a wider audience because I think thereâ€™s a misperception that all college students want to go lay on a beach or do things during spring break that might be troubling,â€ Colyer says. â€œI find it very consoling that there are students attracted to the idea of doing something meaningful and itâ€™s something theyâ€™re doing voluntarily. Theyâ€™re paying to go and this isnâ€™t for course credit.â€
Campagna said the continuity of her visits have meant a lot. â€œItâ€™s always good to go back. We stay at the same place. We work with the same organizations and as the years go on, the relationships have grown stronger.â€
Lizarraga said her freshman trip opened her eyes to what it meant to be a USD student. â€œWhat I really got from it was seeing faith and service as one, and how they work hand in hand. The trip really helped (me see) that USD is a Catholic institution and USD really does live out its mission.â€
University Ministry has expanded its opportunities for students to participate during the spring break week, Colyer said. A first group of USD students and staff â€” eight students, one staff member and one student leader â€” flew to West Virginia to work in Appalachia, one of the most impoverished areas in the United States, March 7-13.
â€œThere are poverty issues and serious issues that we need to address in our own country. This is a poor part of the country, and people there really depended on the coal industry. Theyâ€™ve been devastated. Theyâ€™re really struggling to survive. We want to meet these people, hear their concerns, give our students a chance to see what life is like and what the reality is in West Virginia and in a part of the country many of our students have probably never been,â€ Colyer said.
One possible 2010 spring break immersion destination is New Orleans. Colyer said two staff members and two student leaders with USDâ€™s Center for Awareness, Service and Action (CASA) are in New Orleans this week laying the groundwork for a service-oriented program.
Each trip offered for USD students serves as a reminder that spring break doesnâ€™t have to be a vacation from education.
â€” Ryan T. Blystone