This past week was spring break, and while for many others that meant vacations to the beaches of Florida or time spent with their families, some of us had other plans. For us, spring break meant an early morning flight, a crazy connection, and a drive through the mountains to rural Virginia. What am I talking about? The infamous Spring Break Immersion Program (SBIP). As a freshman, I’ve heard the stories and recommendations for all sorts of clubs, programs and initiatives, but SBIP was one that always impressed me. Students who had gone before insisted that, despite intense work and a chaotic schedule, it was one of the best experiences they had ever had (so needless to say, my expectations were high).
Now, having joined the ranks of the SBIP veterans, I can attest that its reputation is far from an exaggeration, and much more than an intensely-planned marketing scheme (if it is, it is one I am happy to succumb to). The week I spent in Ivanhoe with my group far surpassed all expectations, and will remain in my memories as one of the most peaceful, joyful, and refreshing weeks of my life.
Yes, we slept on the floor, the work was hard, and we went days at a time without showering — but never before have I experienced such a rapid and profound human connection with those around me — both in my group and in the local community. They welcomed us with gratitude and love, opening their homes, their hearts, (and their refrigerators) to a motely group of New England college students, and in doing so, reminded us what life is really about.
One of the major themes of SBIP is the idea of one’s heart being ‘broken open.’ Although this sounds like a painful and uncomfortable experience (and in some ways, it is), the idea is that entering and so quickly leaving a community is bound to hurt. It hurts that we can’t do more, that we can’t know them better, and that we can’t stay. Our hearts are irreversibly opened, and through a little pain, we learn how to serve more selflessly, to care more deeply and to love more freely. Mine certainly was, and I hope it never closes.
It would be easy to write about the devastation of social inequity, the economic disparities, the failure of the healthcare systems and the poor city infrastructure that has left that little town the way it is now. Yet, what struck me more — and opened my heart — was not what that little town lacked, but rather what they had: a community.
‘Community’ is a word that is often thrown around, and can mean so many different things, but this past week showed me that a true community is much more than a mere gathering of people, united by some common characteristic or situation; it is a bond like no other, a space in which all are seen and known and loved to the fullest extent.
To process and understand everything I felt, learned, and experienced this past week will be the happy work of the many weeks to come, but I feel confident that the blessings of this one week will continue to grow and flourish for some time. With our dear site coordinator joining the ranks of my pen pals, and a newfound group of friends by my side, I have no doubt that I am bringing a small piece of that incredible community back home with me to the hill.