Tag Archives: A student’s voice

Weekly Highlight: Japan Summer-Service Learning

Application deadline for Summer 2020–TODAY! Visit: go/jssl and access the application on the bottom of the page.

The Japan Summer Service-Learning Program (JSSL) is a collaborative, intercultural service-learning program that brings together undergraduates from Middlebury, International Christian University (ICU), and multiple member universities of the Service-Learning Asia Network. Participating students work, learn, and engage with local residents in the Tokyo metropolitan region as well as in Tenryumura – a small village in the mountains of Nagano Prefecture. While this is usually a four-week summer program, our summer 2020 session will be for three weeks, ending prior to the start of the Tokyo Olympics.

Xuan He ’20, a JSSL alumna, shares about her experience with the JSSL Program during the Cross Cultural Community Service’s (CCCS) 10th Anniversary.

Last year, student participants reflected on their time in Japan using the new Middlebury Experiential Learning Life Cycle (ELLC) hub website. This is a new reflection resource that educators across Middlebury College created together to support students across different immersive learning experiences to reflect on their learning.

Below are reflections from some of last summer’s participants.

Xiaoyu Wu ’22:

My name is Xiaoyu, and I am a participant in a summer program called JSSL (Japan Summer Service Learning). This program lasts for one month and provides participants the opportunity to experience urban and rural life of Japan. I enjoyed every minute of this program, but the thing that gave me the strongest impact was the monument of Chinese soldiers, which I saw in a rural village (Tenryu Village) in Japan.   

Sometimes I wonder why I am doing volunteer services in Japan while my own country needs help. The answer became clear after my journey to Tenryu Village. There were a lot of tragic stories in this village during WWII— Families broke apart because of the war; foreign soldiers and prisoners of war were forced to participate in the construction of the dam. When Kawakami san was giving this speech about the local history, I felt a mix of conflicted feelings— Anger, unfamiliarity, frustration… Why do we have to uncover the scars of the past again? The purpose is not to re-trigger the hatred but to remember the war, just as Kawakami san mentioned in his speech, “悲劇を忘れないように語り継、この事実を後世に伝えるのも我々の役目かなと思っています (I think we should not forget the tragedy, and it is our role to convey the story to the future generations).” 

There are indeed a lot of stereotypes exist between China and Japan, and it is our mission, the younger generations’ responsibility, to rediscover the good in humanity and break down these stereotypes. Because many people do not know that when forced labors were suffering, villagers shared their limited resources with them. Even after the war, there is a Japanese lady who places flowers in front of the monument every day for over 50 years.

Sam Hernandez ’22:

Hello, I’m Sam Hernandez and I am a participant in the Japanese Summer Service Learning program. During the month of July, me and an international team of students set out to participate in various service projects throughout the city of Mitaka and the rural Tenryū village. Something that has pleasantly surprised me about this experience was how easy it has been to work with people from various different cultures in a country where we are foreigners to make a difference in people’s lives.

While I say it has been easy, that means relatively. We have worked incredibly hard as a group and put in a lot of effort. But the reward we get, the memories, the experiences, the connections, they’re all so incredibly valuable that having to put in some effort is nothing. The benefits to this program will be lifelong. Not only that, but we have done meaningful service as well. The benefits for those we served are hopefully even more meaningful. Essentially, I learned that it doesn’t take much to make a difference. Whether it be helping your members make paper at a service center or pulling up ragweed in a park. Even just listening to an elderly citizen recount their youth and most valuable memories. We made an impact together as a team of various people from different backgrounds, beliefs, ideals, and goals. In only a month, we became friends. Our differences were embraced and welcomed. It was a most pleasant surprise.

Japan Summer Service-Learning program alumni – Brenda Martinez ’22, Sam Hernandez ’22, Xuan He ’20, Xiaoyu Wu ’22, and Stephen Chen 19.5 – gather for a light-hearted reunion with CCE’s Kristen Mullins and Atsuko Kuronuma during Ms. Kuronuma’s recent visit from Tokyo.

Consider applying for this amazing program. Visit go/jssl and access the application at the bottom of the page.

ASIA Students Attend the annual ECAASU Conference

Queenie Li ’22 writes about her and three other students’ experience in attending the East Coast Asian American Student Union (ECAASU) Conference in Pittsburgh, PA early this Spring.

Asian Students in Action (ASIA) took four undergraduate students to the East Coast Asian American Student Union conference in Pittsburgh, PA early this Spring. The annual ECAASU conference brings together various colleges to participate in workshops about the Asian and Asian Pacific Islander (AAPI) identity and diaspora, form connections between students, and to celebrate the AAPI identity. This conference is the largest and oldest conference for Asian Americans in the United States. Due to the support in part by funding from Community Engagement at Middlebury College, we were able to attend, gain knowledge, and make connections with other AAPI college students.

Nhân Huỳnh ’23, Shuyi Lin ’23, Lia Yeh ’20, and Queenie Li ‘22 pose for a photo during their free time.

Being surrounded by other AAPI students, we were empowered, reaffirmed, and felt deep sense of belonging. The conference was comprised of a diverse selection of workshops and caucuses. One workshop of note that two of us attended was entitled “Why Are We Here? The Role of Collegiate Asian Organizations,” inspiring us to reexamine ASIA’s mission and the community we serve. We left that workshop inspired and are now working to put on an inaugural AAPI conference here at Middlebury to serve colleges and folks in the northeast who were unable to attend ECAASU.

Lia Yeh ’20 with workshop facilitator and Midd alum Krysty Shen ‘17.

Of the caucuses, we were able to attend closed affinity caucuses or open caucuses about broader issues that we wanted to discuss. In light of recent news, there was a caucus dedicated to examining the coronavirus and the subsequent rise of xenophobia towards the AAPI community. The topics of discussion at ECAASU were reflective of current events as well as of continual issues that impact the AAPI community. Workshops and caucuses tackling recurrent issues offered deeper and niched perspectives that allowed for a new approach and understanding of the issues.

[The caucus focusing on coronavirus and the rise of xenophobia] was personally very powerful for me to be able share my emotions with many people and see that people share the same concern and frustration as me

Shuyi Lin ’23. an ASIA member at the ECAASU Conference

Apart from the workshops and caucuses, we found the conference valuable as it introduced us to other AAPI students from other schools. Due to our location in rural Vermont, being an AAPI student is often very isolating and we have little to no relationships with other collegiate AAPI organizations and AAPI students. The conference fostered those connections and we have left with new friends and collaborators. We are excited to have found companions and support on our journey as AAPI students. More importantly, we are thrilled to also be able to provide support to our new friends and to begin to provide support to AAPI members of the Middlebury community.

Shuyi Lin ’23, Lia Yeh ’20, Queenie Li ‘ 22, Nhân Huỳnh ’23, Rachel Jeong ’22 with members of Tufts Asian Student Coalition eat dinner together at the Conference.

Stay up to date with Asian Students in Action! Like our Facebook page (go/asiamidd/) or follow us on Instagram (@asiamidd)!

More information about ECAASU can be found here: https://www.ecaasu.org/

My MAlt Spring Break: Intersections of Faith and Climate Action

I spent my February break this year a little differently. I went back to Los Angeles, the place I have been calling home for the past 11 years, with nine other Middleury students. At 6:00 p.m. on a Saturday our plane finally landed in LAX, and I felt our group’s collective excitement and eagerness to learn about the intersectionality between climate change and religion and what roles we can play in helping mitigate this global crisis.  Although it is true that our trip was not the most physically demanding–we may have gone to the beach this week more than I ever have in one summer–I believe that it was one of my most intellectually and emotionally engaging experiences at Middlebury College. 

MAlt LA 2020 Participants in Long Beach, California for the beach clean-up with Algalita Marine Research and Education, a non-profit organization. Participants from left to right: Chima Dimgba ’21, Julia McClaine ’22, Rachel Jeong ’22, Nhi Do ’22, Isabella Primavera 21.5, Soyibou Sylla ’20, Bo Liu ’23, Anna Cox ’21, Bayu Ahmad ’21, Huiming (Sam) Liang ’22.

On our first full day, we visited the Metropolitan Church of Christ, a church centered on Creation. The whole community welcomed all of us with open arms, reflecting the core of their sermon that day: we humans are “the salt of the earth.” They shared the message that humans are one of earth’s most valuable resources and we have a duty to be kind to each other. This kindness must also extend towards all of God’s creation. We have a duty to protect and nurture the earth and everything that resides in it because we are simply sharing the earth with other living beings. Theirs was a call for responsibility. Although this was a clear articulation of the connection between climate change in religion, the most powerful experience I had in this church was more personal.

A banner hangs outside the Metropolitan Church of Christ. The church’s members are known as the “Queer and Quirky of Cahuenga Street” as they practice love for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, race, and other social signifiers.

They did the Holy Communion a little differently from other more traditional churches. We were invited to join if we desired. I took the “body of Christ” with my own hands from a tray and dipped it in the chalice filled with the “blood of Christ.” After eating this, the deacon took my hands and touched our foreheads together in a very personal prayer. My eyes started to water as her words touched my heart. She said: “Blessed be are those who are young. For they really are the hope of the future.” At that moment, I realized that the older generation places so much faith in us to do better and to take better care of our shared world.

The most physically demanding–and emotionally exhausting–day that we had came on the third day of our trip. Half of the group, including myself, worked from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Hippie Kitchen situated in the middle of Downtown Los Angeles’ notorious Skid Row. This neighborhood, called “Hell on Earth” by some, creates a stark contrast from the bustling and wealthy area of Downtown Los Angeles as you see streets upon streets filled with tents, shopping carts, trash, and items usually found inside a house. When you leave this neighborhood, you can immediately see a completely different set-up of the city: high-rise buildings, fancy restaurants, expensive apartments. As a native Los Angelena, I knew of and have seen this place in person–but only from the outside. Going inside the heart of Skid Row was, therefore, a surreal experience. I felt exposed and, admittedly, scared. When we got inside the Hippie Kitchen, I felt a sense of relief–no longer would I have to stand outside surrounded by the marginalized and unrepresented as the Kitchen’s four walls became my temporary refuge. I felt weird and I felt wrong.

Going inside the heart of Skid Row was, therefore, a surreal experience. I felt exposed and, admittedly, scared. When we got inside the Hippie Kitchen, I felt a sense of relief–no longer would I have to stand outside surrounded by the marginalized and unrepresented as the Kitchen’s four walls became my temporary refuge.

Isabella Primavera ‘21.5, MAlt LA Participant

As we rotated jobs once the Hippie Kitchen opened, I found myself serving salad to those experiencing homelessness. At this station, I distinctly remember one moment: One of the regular volunteers asked a regular patron where his wife was. He answered: “She’s in our tent today since she’s not feeling well.” That response hit me hard. In my everyday life, the “tent” would be substituted by “home” or “room,” sturdier and more personal spaces, places that are supposed to provide a comfortable shield from the outside. Hearing this man’s response, I felt a sense of shame. It was shame for being able to find comfort in going back to a comfortable house–with a bed, a heater, running water, a warm blanket–while my counterparts lived in their tents.

A billboard in Downtown LA stating “Homeless Republic,” depicting the California flag’s bear as a man outside of his tent– his home.

Before we started our shifts, we came upon the volunteers praying in a circle, holding hands. When they saw us (Middlebury students standing outside the kitchen), they opened up the circle and invited us join the prayer. The prayer, I faintly recall, was a prayer by St. Vincent de Paul–a priest who has dedicated his life to serving the poor. The prayer talked of our duties to the poor–that it is our duty to help them and even when they disrespect us, we must treat them with more kindness. I deeply respect all of the volunteers; their belief in the word of God drives their selflessness in serving the community in Skid Row. I respect those experiencing homelessness as well. Despite their situations, some of them come to the Hippie Kitchen filled with hope and gratitude. It is another day that they are alive and another day that they can eat and for that they are thankful. 

A wall in the Hippie Kitchen says “Make Beans, Not War.” The Hippie Kitchen, whose official name is actually Lost Angeles Catholic Worker’s “Hospitality Kitchen,” makes food (including beans) three times a week for those who need it.

There is so much that we did on this trip–so much learning, engagement, reflection–that one blog post would not be enough to talk about all of it. I’ve highlighted these two days of the trip because they contained the most impactful moments for me. While the first experience shows the direct connection between climate change and religion I experienced, the second experience shows that solving the climate crisis cannot stand in isolation from creating broader social justice. Climate change is a social justice issue. For how can the marginalized and underrepresented worry about the environment when everyday they have to worry about satisfying their most basic needs–food and shelter? This trip has made me realize that climate change is not just this abstract, global problem but a systemic problem–those who are not in the top 5% wealthiest parts of the population are the ones who experience most of climate change’s effects, but those with the most wealth are responsible for creating and maintaining most of the systems of dependence on, and actual emissions of, fossil fuels and greenhouse gasses that are causing the problem in the first place. The marginalized hold some of the fewest choices for taking personal action, too. People who need jobs must take the jobs available, even if they are in places like oil refineries. Those experiencing homelessness use single-use plastic because they don’t have access to sturdier containers. All of these complex problems are part of climate change.

 Climate change is a social justice issue. For how can the marginalized and underrepresented worry about the environment when everyday they have to worry about satisfying their most basic needs–food and shelter?

Isabella Primavera ‘21.5, MAlt LA Participant

Although these issues seem so big and unsolvable–believe me, I was feeling hopeless for a while–the communities that we have seen in action are all doing their part to try to fix the system from the ground-up. Faith communities as well as normal neighborhoods are all working with the people in their communities to tackle the climate crises–the Metropolitan Church of Christ and the Hippie Kitchen are just two of these examples. Because of these groups, I have hope that we can work together to change the world for the better. 

Looking Back on a Summer Well Spent

Pleased to share the final blog post in a series that highlights the experiences of Privilege & Poverty Interns as they learned and worked with local and national social services this summer.

This one is my (Connor Wertz ’22) personal reflection, which takes in the conversations and reflections I had the entire summer with other interns, my co-workers, and those I worked with at the John Graham Shelter.

Group shot of interns and community partners in a field.
The summer intern cohort and their community partners gathered for dinner and reflection in August. L-R: Abi Sessions (Board member – John Graham Housing and Services), Kerri Duquette-Hoffman (Exec. Director – WomenSafe), Olivia O’Brien (Middlebury College), Justin Srsic (Marymount Univ.), Luna Gizzi (Middlebury College),
Kassydi Dunnaway (Ohio Univ.), Anna Durning (Middlebury College), Joshua Lanney (Open Door Clinic), Nico Plume (Middlebury College), Connor Wertz (Middlebury College), Pete Kellerman (Co-Director, John Graham Housing and Services), Peter Mehler (Middlebury College), Brigett Weinstein (Middlebury College), Christina Grier (Services Director – WomenSafe), Doug Sinclair (Co-Director – Charter House Coalition), Cynthia Ramos (Middlebury College). Photo by Jason Duquette-Hoffman.

One hundred days. Not a very long time – in fact, less time than I have spent on any other job in my life. Yet I have taken to describing this past summer to those who ask as nothing less than perspective changing.

I started the summer primed from a lifetime of American culture, media, and my own privilege to see the differences between myself and others in our community. Indeed, I think I wanted to see differences, so that I could overcome them.

Ambitious? Maybe. Naive? Most definitely. 

Class, education, hometown, expectations from life, skin color, dignity, structural inequalities: I prepared analyses of all of these and more, and spent long nights wondering how they would play out in my personal interactions with those I would be working with.

Then, within the first few days of my internship, a little girl sidled up beside me, eyed me somewhat suspiciously with paper and markers in hand like an offering of peace, and said “Why are you so quiet?”

Four collaboratively completed pictures later, someone else recognized my hometown in Massachusetts. “That’s where Jack Keruac is from, right? Love him. Greatest American novelist.” Two conversations in, and I realized I was going to have to forget everything I expected. 

And 100 days later – days full of coffee conversation and creaky chairs, mornings discussing with other interns our shared experiences, concerns, and emotions – I can’t think of anything worth reflecting on except the similarities I’ve come to learn through relationships, even within structures of inequality.

At times, my first year at Middlebury College seemed like a constant performance of adequacy. Of proving one’s competency over and over – though I haven’t yet figured out to whom. This summer at the John Graham Shelter, living and learning as a part of the broader community in every sense of that term, if I had to prove anything it was how to be human: how to connect with people solely on the basis of what we shared.

Here, if I learned nothing else, it was just how many shared elements (hopes, sense of humor, needs) that we all have.

Thank you to the staff and community of the CCE, as well as the John Graham Shelter community for an experience that will shape me – has already shaped me – wherever I go moving onwards. I can only hope to give back a small fraction of the wisdom, the energy for change, and the inspiration that I will be taking with me.

Takeaway Lessons from Japan Summer Service Learning 2019

As this year’s Japan Service Learning Program wrapped up, students were given the opportunity to reflect on the impact of the immersive, collaborative learning experiences in which they participated. In the second of two JSSL posts, participant Xuan He ’20 discusses the key lessons she learned during the program, and how she hopes to apply those lessons to her future experiences.

I am Xuan He, a senior Religion major at Middlebury College from Zhejiang, China. It is my third year studying Japanese. This July, I was selected as one of the Middlebury students to participate in the four-week Japan Summer Service Learning (JSSL) program at International Christian University (ICU), Middlebury’s partner university in Mitaka, Japan.

JSSL is an opportunity for students from various countries to experience Japanese culture firsthand and to learn about themselves, Japanese society, and their own societies through community engagement. Our cohort this year consisted of 16 students, including four Middlebury students, six ICU students, two students from Assumption University in Thailand, two students from Silliman University in the Philippines, and two from Union Christian University in India. Our academic foci also cover a wide range of disciplines, including Agriculture, Hospitality and Tourism Management, Industrial Design, Zoology, Religion, Japanese Language and Culture, Music, Economics, Psychology, History, Environmental Studies, and more.

Students work together to help clean up a blueberry farm.

JSSL was a life-changing experience for me. The program consisted of multiple parts. Between July 8-18, we divided into small groups to volunteer at various sites in the local Mitaka city area, including public elementary schools, alternative schools for students with special learning needs, elderly care homes, an environmental NPO, and community-gathering centers. We participated in a variety of service activities, such as organizing after-school activities for children, visiting English classes at local elementary schools, removing rotten blueberries from the ground at a local blueberry farm to prevent the spread of diseases, and performing a traditional style Japanese tea ceremony. On July 13, we each also had the opportunity to visit a local Japanese family. I bonded deeply with my host family. It was the highlight of my time in Mitaka.

Between July 19-23, as a group we travelled to a rural village located at the southern tip of Nagano Prefecture called Tenryu Village, about five hours west of Tokyo. There we conducted oral history interviews with five Tenryu village elders under the guidance of Professor Linda White from the Japanese Department at Middlebury College. We give our deepest gratitude to our interviewees who generously shared with us their life stories as well as the history of Tenryu Village in the last century. Learning about the history of the village through an individual’s life experiences taught us a humbling lesson: There is no one single Truth. Every person’s experience matters.

If I need to name one thing I took away from JSSL, I would say I learned that intercultural dialogue is not easy. Although in our group English was the lingua franca, we quickly learned that not everybody spoke English on the same level or in the same way. Inevitably, there were times of miscommunication, misunderstandings, and frustrations. However, these challenges did not break us but instead strengthened our connection over time. That is because we were a group of individuals who were willing to consider others’ perspectives, listen intently, and act upon the feedback we had received from others.

Willingness to open ourselves to each other was another special quality of our group. During the program, we regularly had reflection meetings or online reflection forums to share our experiences with each other. I really appreciated that everyone was willing to open up their hearts to share their honest feelings, ups and downs with each other. It was also very helpful to have various ways to share our thoughts with each other, because not everybody runs at the same speed.

These four weeks have brought me a few new insights about myself. During the program I discovered that I really enjoy working with a group of diverse, open-minded and collaboration-minded individuals. It was also rewarding to work with a team with diverse personalities, interests, and talents. One of our culmination projects was producing a booklet for the Tenryu villagers whom we interviewed during our Oral History project. We divided into small groups based on our interests and skills, but the process did not go smoothly from the beginning. Since it was a collaborative creative project, different individuals had different ideas of what the final product might look like. It took a lot of communication, patience, trust, and flexibility with change for us to eventually reach our outcome. It was the collaborative spirit of our group that allowed us to overcome numerous challenges and achieve an impressive outcome in less than two days.

Students interview a resident during the oral history component of the program.

Moving forward, I look forward to applying these lessons that I learned during JSSL about interpersonal relationships and intercultural communication to my existing relationships with other people and the ones I will build in the future. I believe these “soft” skills are a valuable asset that I can carry with me wherever I go. Last but not least, I am grateful for having attended JSSL because going to Japan has allowed me to gain more confidence in my Japanese skills. I am excited to continue studying Japanese in my last year at Middlebury.

In close, I would like to thank both the CCE and the CCI offices for funding my incredible experience in Japan this summer, Kristen Mullins and the staff members from ICU Service Learning Center, my program mates, as well as all the kind-hearted Japanese people I met on this trip. JSSL 2019 will always have a special place in my heart.

Thank you for sharing your powerful experiences, Xuan!

Language, Cultures, and Students in Motion – A Spring Break in the Kingdom

Kyler Blodgett ’17 writes about his experience on a LiM-Mini-MAlt trip this spring break to Orleans County and the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont with four other Middlebury students.

Middlebury Students at LRHSMiddlebury Students

“The five of us piled into the van early on the Tuesday morning of Spring Break, wondering if we had remembered all the USBs, international candies, and travel knick knacks for the next three days. We were headed 100 miles north of campus to Orleans County and the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont to deliver interactive presentations focused on global awareness and cultural relativity to students in the area. The Kingdom, as it’s called locally, is known for beautiful scenery with a low population, even relative to the rest of the state. Social services and employment options tend to be limited, but prospects of moving out of the area are low.

With this context in mind, we had spent the previous two weeks preparing our presentations. Trained by Kristen Mullins, director of the Language in Motion program on campus, we all based the presentations in our personal experiences living or studying abroad. The countries in our group included England, Ireland, France, Germany, China, and Cameroon.

As it is with many short service-learning trips, we hit the ground running. Our first afternoon in the Kingdom we presented at Brownington Central School, a K through 8 school with about 15 students per grade. There was a nervous energy among us as we met the principal and were given a tour of the small building; though many of us had worked with kids previously, the prospect of being handed the reins of a classroom either in pairs or solo was still daunting. We didn’t reconvene as a whole group until the school day ended two and a half hours later, but the nervousness had clearly vanished long before that. We shared stories of the students’ perceptiveness, and anecdotes of way the young kids focus on the most unpredictable details that is equal parts lovable and frustrating to a teacher.

Over a homemade dinner, we reflected on our gratitude that the kids were not hesitant to ask questions or show interest in the topics, a “too cool for school” feeling we had expected. We wondered if we would get such an enthusiastic reception at the neighboring Lake Region High School the next day.

IMG_1116Wednesday morning had a similar feeling of anticipation since it was the fullest and least centralized day of the trip. We met with Lake Region guidance counselors before the first class, a conversation that quickly turned towards the respective stereotypes the students have of internal cliques, foreigners, and often themselves. Though this knowledge made our presentation topics feel even more relevant, it gave us a pause to consider how we’d be received.

Much like Tuesday afternoon at the Brownington, we were collectively surprised at the level of the kids’ engagement. By second period, word had gotten around that college students were in the building and kids would often enter presentation classrooms and whisper excitedly. We saw little trace of the non-engagement counselors had warned us about; rather, students were very curious about our travels, and enthusiastic participants in simulations and discussions. In some of our most interesting moments, we were able to talk with the students about ways they thought outsiders stereotyped the Kingdom, and use that as a springboard to conversations about cultural relativity. The students brought an energy to activities that was contagious even when our own fatigue began to catch up with us in the afternoon.

Our group met up after the last bell rang with grins on our tired faces. We’d had two early mornings in a row, but the learning wasn’t done yet. We were lodging at the Old Stone House Museum not far from the schools, and the museum director gave us a tour that afternoon. She walked us through the fascinating history of the Old Stone House as a progressive boarding school run by Midd alum, Alexander Twilight, from 1829 to 1847.

 Before driving back to Middlebury on Thursday, we met with the director of the Teen Center at NEKCA (the Northeast Kingdom Community Action association), a hub of local social service providers. In a conversation that was both lively and frank, director Allyson Howell talked to us about the realities of running the Teen Center on a shoestring budget, and the difficulties facing youth in the Kingdom. These included the location as a notorious drug highway from New York City to Canada, homelessness, and rural transportation obstacles.

We each reflected on the trip in different ways. For some, it confirmed that secondary education would be key to their future career path; for others, the exact opposite. For many of us, the trip raised questions about how we can engage with a new community in such a short time and allow learning about experience living in the Kingdom to supplement or contradict our background knowledge. For all of us, I think, we appreciated the chance to broaden our view of Vermont from the slice of Addison County that we see regularly. We’re extremely grateful to all the people on campus who made this trip a reality, and for the students and educators we met for their patience, enthusiasm, and willingness to share a moment of their lives with us.”

IMG_1131

 

Learn more about Middlebury Alternative Breaks Trips at go/MAlt and about the Language in Motion program at go/LiM.

 

Alison Haas ’16, CE Communicatiosn Intern

What Happens When 50+ MiddKids Go on MAlt Trips

This past February break, six groups of Middlebury students escaped the wintry Vermont weather, traveling as many as 3,000 miles to six respective locations around the globe. Middlebury Alternative Break Trips, affectionately referred to as MAlt trips, are service-oriented experiential-learning trips. This year the 50+ MAlt participants traveled to Guatemala, Washington DC, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Miami, and New York City, and addressed issues ranging from permaculture to privilege and poverty in vastly diverse local communities.

“The trip was eye-opening and life-changing […] I intend to try to lead a MAlt trip myself, motivated by how powerful and influential and rewarding this trip has been,” one MAlt Washington DC participant said.

Returning to campus, many students remarked that their MAlt trip has left an enduring mark on them.

Another student who participated in the Building Communities trip in Guatemala, working with Constru Casa and Tecnologia Para Salud (TPS), noted that “[…] it was more than I ever imagined and will have lasting impact on me. It taught me the power of active learning. Moreover, it taught me that it is not enough to be ‘book smart’.”

As students reflected on their rich experiences and personal growth, they also explored the ethics of service and development work. What role does service play in a community? How can we responsibly contribute to a community that is not our own? What is sustainable service and development? How can we unpack our own privilege in relation to certain communities based on identities of race, class, gender, nationality, ethnicity, sexuality, and so on? How can we best learn from each other?

Read on: MAlt participants will answer these questions, explain the ins and outs of travel in-country and abroad, talk small group dynamics and new friendships, and tell of the challenges and lasting benefits of volunteerism and service.

Over the course of their trips these Middkids kept quite busy. Elsa Avarado ’18 of MAlt Miami, a group that worked at a schools, wrote in, “Some of the projects that we did for the school included: spreading wood chips all over the playground, re-planting the garden, etc. Our days were very packed.”

Dylan Gilbert and Mariam Khan, both class of 2017, wrote about their trip to Mexico and the opportunity it afforded an unlikely group of students to get to know each other. Dylan Gilbert is an Art History and Russian double major from St. Peters, Missouri and Mariam Khan is a student of Math, Religion, and Education Studies from Waterville, Maine.

They wrote, “MAlt trips really have the ability to bring together a variety of students from across campus that would most likely never intersect otherwise. Our trip was no different. We had an extremely diverse group of 12 students (including us). Every class year was represented. Majors ranged from Physics to Art History to Women and Gender Studies to Math, and even geographically our participants came from all over the United States and even the world. All of our participants were exceptional individuals that each contributed their own unique perspective and experiences to the group dynamic.”

Dylan, Mariam, and other MAlt Mexico participants also reflected upon certain challenges that the group faced, from linguistic capabilities to the politics of international tourism.

“In addition to working with children at the daycare, our group also explored issues of inequality and poverty in San Miguel de Allende, a town known for its expat communities and tourism. Our goal was the offer a caring hand to Casa and a critical eye to privilege as we engaged in our work at the center […] Not everyone on our trip knew Spanish, which was challenging but encouraging since everyone was still able to engage equally […] The town of San Miguel itself has a problematic history with tourism and expats, and through this trip, we were able to observe and analyze the complex nature of the community while still recognizing our own role in the broader narrative of San Miguel. Overall, our experiences in San Miguel de Allende provided able opportunity to physically engage with our work and each other and also to better understand the effects of tourism on the local populations of San Miguel.”

Similar to the reflections of MAlt Mexico participants, a MAlt Puerto Rico participant noted that, “This trip was useful in informing me on culturally-appropriate service abroad.” This learning, however, certainly came with challenges, even if small ones. On the MAlt Miami trip, for instance, showering at night in an outdoor shower and staying in a low-income neighborhood posed an adjustment for some of the participants.

As far as community partners goes, the reviews of the Middkids were extremely positive. Jessica Towers of DC Central Kitchen worked with the Washington DC trip focusing on issues of privilege and poverty. She said, “The Middlebury students that came to work with us were awesome! They were friendly, helpful, and hardworking.” Community partner Cale Johnson of Casa de los Angeles, a non-profit in Mexico that provides a safe haven for single mothers and their children, writes, “We were really pleased and impressed with all of the students in the group. They came willing and enthusiastic to help and as such left a great impact on our organization.”

The students in turn expressed their appreciation for the community partners and organizations with whom they worked. MAlt Miami wrote in, “I would most definitely recommend ICO to other MAlt leaders because they truly made us feel welcome and they were so grateful for our help. Even though we were so grateful to be part of the team!” MAlt Puerto Rico also chimed in, “Working with Plenitud was a very symbiotic relationship.”

Indeed, many trip-goers said they would recommend the organizations they worked with to future MAlt participants. Despite the challenges they encountered, participants found that they made a difference in and learned from the communities they served thanks to moments of reflection, communication, and hard work. In the words of one MAlt Guatemala participant, “Service is possible by team work and willingness to learn.”

So, what do you say? Will you be next? Will a life-changing MAlt trip be part of your 2016 or 2017?

Learn more about Middlebury Alternative Break Trips at go/malt and view photos from this year’s trips on Facebook.

 

~Alison Haas ’16, CE Communications Intern