Students travel to serve, learn over spring break
Kara Miecznikowski | Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Many college students travel for spring break, but not all do so for the sake of vacationing. This past week, numerous Notre Dame students partook in University-sponsored travel to towns and cities across the nation, experiencing firsthand the ideas and issues students are usually limited to learning about in a classroom setting.
Among these service and academic trips are the Center for Social Concerns’ Appalachia Seminars. These seminars, which couple classroom learning with a service trip to a location in the Appalachia region, allow students to address social issues in context while serving a community in need. Sophomore Colleen Ballantyne participated in a trip to West Virginia over spring break. The group spent the week working on a non-profit farm, helping with home repairs in the local community, and learning more about the area’s needs.
“The trip is really about integrating learning and service, particularly in the view of Catholic social teaching,” she said. “While we’re serving, we’re also learning more about the community itself, and becoming more aware and sympathetic of their needs.”
The students’ interaction with the surrounding community is also a central component of the experience.
“My favorite part was getting to meet the homeowners and volunteers from the different service organizations we worked with … just being able to build that sense of community with them,” Ballantyne said.
Sophomore Jen Lies, who attended an Appalachia Seminar in eastern Kentucky, also noted the importance of connecting with the community she was serving.
“The trip really impacted me through all the people I met and stories I heard. Both the people living in the region and the other volunteers showed a lot of love and passion,” she said. “I met AmeriCorps volunteers that were in the area long-term, and it was inspiring to see the calling they feel for it. It made me think about how I’m going to serve with my own vocation in the future.”
Another university-led trip, sponsored by the John W. Gallivan Program in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy (JED), allowed students to travel to Houston, Texas. The inaugural “Covering America” class allowed students to learn — beyond a textbook — how to cover national stories ethically and with empathy. Students reported on stories of their choice, toured The Houston Chronicle and helped rebuild a home damaged by Hurricane Harvey.
Gretchen Hopkirk, a sophomore journalism student, said the trip to Texas exposed her to new experiences.
“It was really cool to meet people from such a different background. The interviews I did allowed me to step into someone else’s world, whether it was their home or the behind-the-scenes of an event I’d never experienced before,” she said. “The trip allowed me to experience a lot of different lives through my career. It really strengthened my desire to go into journalism.”