While the majority of Boston College students were enjoying their last days of winter break from the comfort of their homes, Arrupe International Immersion Program participants were living in the midst of abject poverty in nine different communities across Latin America.
Sponsored by Campus Ministry, the Arrupe International Immersion Program sends teams of 14 to 16 students and BC-affiliated Arrupe Mentors to locations across Latin America each year for seven to nine days. This year was the first where students were sent to nine communities, an increase of one from last year. Programs took place in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Belize, Jamaica, Ecuador, and three different locations in Mexico.
Each Arrupe program is unique, as each group’s two student leaders and Arrupe Mentors plan their group’s experience independently. Service organizations based in the program areas that partner with Campus Ministry help run daily activities once the groups are in their respective countries.
Most programs over winter break fell into the “education-based immersion” category. This means that students met with community leaders from local government, churches, and organizations involved in social welfare to discuss social, economic, political, and religious aspects of life in the community.
They also stayed with families in the area to get a true sense of what life was like for the average member of the community.
A couple of programs, including those in Belize and Puebla, Mexico, were “service-based immersions,” where students would work along side the local members of the communities building houses or doing agricultural work.
Though service is incorporated into a few of the trips, it is not at the heart of the program.
“It’s less about any kind of service, and more about getting to know people, hearing their story and their perspective on their lives and struggles,” said Kelly Sardon-Garrity, campus minister for international programs.
Despite each program’s unique nature, all the programs are bound by the common goal of getting to know the individuals in each community and trying to answer certain questions.
“How do these people survive and flourish? What are their needs? How can we be together in solidarity? Hopefully each trip asks these questions,” Sardon-Garrity said.
While building relationships with local community members, Arrupe participants also come to know themselves. “There’s an invitation to each person to gain an awareness of self. At the center of all of that is a question: How am I moving towards love in my life and in my aspirations for the future?” Sardon-Garrity said.
Reflection did not start or end in Latin America for participants. Participating in the Arrupe International Immersion program is a long process that requires a summer of fundraising and weekly meetings during the fall semester preceding the trip. Common topics of discussion at these meetings are human dignity and Ignatian discernment. A retreat follows the trip.
“Overall there tends to be real enthusiasm when people arrive home. Students are invigorated. They want to do something,” Sardon-Garrity said.
This sense of enthusiasm carries participants into the final stage of the program: solidarity projects.
“We challenge students to consider how can they can integrate the key learning points about what was so powerful about their trip into their lives here,” Sardon-Garrity said.
Arrupe groups can respond to this challenge in any way they choose. Last year’s El Salvador group’s solidarity project was cleaning bathrooms on campus to raise money for a scholarship fund in the country they came to know.
“They wanted to do something to raise money for the kids in the community, but also to connect more deeply with the experience of someone who immigrates from an area like El Salvador to this country,” Sardon-Garrity said.
As participants return from their winter break trips, they will begin to plan how they can best share their experience with the BC community this semester.