Alternative Stories #3: Self-discovery through site-leading

Every week, members and partners of the Alternative Spring Break (ASB) community will share their Alternative Stories, a series of narratives inspired by the experiences, memories, and meanings made and shared through ASB. This week, we hear from Kaitlyn Bates, a Neuroscience senior minoring in Spanish, and ASB Lead Team member on our Education & Training functional team.

1891247_10151892009731008_851657404_nIt was a complete accident that I came across Alternative Spring Break (ASB). I can’t recall exactly who suggested I do it, but I certainly owe him or her a huge “thank you.”

On my first trip, I went to the Appalachian South Folklife Center and learned about poverty and its effects on rural populations. It definitely put a new perspective on the topic of ‘rural poverty,’ as well as introduced me to 13 incredible people, knowledge of several new card games, and the life lesson that sleeping with your mouth open is not something you should do in a group car ride. I left for spring break totally ignorant about rural poverty, and came back with a better understanding of the issue. Our group left Michigan as strangers, and we came back friends. It was this transformative experience — the fact that this week allowed for so much personal growth — that made me want to be a site leader.

However, being a site leader is a way different experience than being a participant. For starters, as a site leader, you have to take on a leadership role in transportation to the site. I’m absolutely terrible with directions and a mediocre driver at best. But it was during that hour in which we were lost at some rest stop half-way between Ohio and Indiana that the invisible barrier between participant and site leader began to come down. We sang aloud to all the songs on the radio, everyone managed to misread the map, and we reminisced about our childhood with some WarHeads that we found at a local gas station. It was the start of an incredible week.417178_2749607984970_1227949922_n

It was incredible not only because, once again, I learned so much about a prevalent social issue as well as about myself, but also because I was able to witness my participants grow. We spent days interacting with children in an afterschool program and doing miscellaneous maintenance work. Nights were for reflecting on what we had learned and how to take this knowledge back to our own communities. It was a heavy and emotional time, but one full of learning, friendship, and self-discovery.

This is my fourth year being involved in the ASB program, and I would say that each year I take away something new. Whether it be learning that the ‘designated leader’ doesn’t have to bear the full burden of navigating through the Midwest, or the opportunity to learn from a different community, ASB has definitely shaped my college experience and impacted my future goals.

To share your Alternative Spring Break story, e-mail the ASB Public Relations Team at