Thursday, March 25, 2010

Students in Solidarity: Who comes on an immersion to El Salvador...

...when they could be pub-crawling in London? Or bistro-hopping in Florence? As we close out our time in El Salvador, we've been asking that question of students. They have ready answers.

One of them rephrased it for us: "You mean why did I choose to Study Abroad, rather than Party Abroad?" He laughed: "Here we learn whether we want to or not." He identified very precisely how his perspective had changed: he'd come as a proponent of neo-liberal, free-market capitalism. He's learned how that economic philosophy cripples countries like El Salvador. He's learned that "place makes a difference," where you are located in the global market makes a huge difference in what you see. He's learned "never to be complacent again."

Then he began to tell stories about working with the children in the praxis site to which he's been assigned. The conversation turned to a series of verbal snapshots of "my kids."

Another student observed: "Most of us have been involved in protests at the School of the Americas. It's a common thread." Of course, most of the students come from Jesuit universities -- but not all. "Students already come with an awareness of the world," she said. This experience deepens it. As an undergraduate, she first participated in, then led Alternative Spring Breaks. "AB's" count as another kind of immersion that involves three components: direct service, education, and reflection. Each component is crucial: "Without education, everything gets mushy; without reflection, it gets meaningless; without service, it gets heady."

What would she carry with her when she left El Salvador? "Community," and as she unpacked that, it's clear community is multi-dimensional. Living in an intentional community with other students, working in the praxis sites or Salvadoran communities, learning with the Romero scholars -- and seeing this country through their eyes: all these components of the Casa program take her experience of Alternative Break to a new and deeper level. She's looking for ways to re-create that kind of community back in the States.

She too left us with a bunch of verbal snapshots of a mother in her praxis site, the family who hosted her for a week's visit early on. As with her colleague, these stories told more than any book or article on the country. She'll carry these people with her.

As we gather our things for tomorrow's return to the States, I'm thinking about these new colleagues in El Salvador. Theirs are the faces in my mental photo gallery. Theirs are the stories I'll carry with me.

I wonder what re-entry will be like for all of us? How will these students live out what they've learned here in El Norte, on campuses where everyone arrives in class plugged into their own individual soundtrack? Where texts and cells provide easy access to friends, but block contact with the people sitting right next to you? Where meaning is measured out in salary scales, consumer goods, and material success? What will re-entry be like for them?

What will re-entry be like for us? What's our calling, even after this brief visit? We haven't been here long; still, we have been here. How has the experience claimed us? Or, to borrow language that threads through every dimension of this program, how can we accompany this program, our gracious hosts Kevin and Trena Yonkers-Talz, and the students here?

I know that's the right question. We'll keep searching for the answer.


  1. Your whole experience sounds fascinating. Thank you for sharing some of it here.
    Wishing you all an easy re-entry.

  2. Wow, it is such a great opportunity for these young people to see reality in while they are pursuing their higher education. Her quote, "Each component is crucial: 'Without education, everything gets mushy; without reflection, it gets meaningless; without service, it gets heady.' " I agree wholeheartedly. America is such a different place compared to the world - everyone has to see the world with their own eyes if anything will ever change in the states.