Alternative Stories #11: Breaking a stereotype

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 Tina Al-khersan, an International Studies and AAPTIS sophomore and ASB site leader.

png;base647177748e4dff94f2I entered my first year of college wanting to embrace with open arms opportunities that I would be unable to find elsewhere, and I hoped that these experiences would leave long lasting impressions on me.

I found just that in ASB.

My freshmen year of college, I struggled to find any clubs or extracurriculars that really interested me; I kept dropping in and out of groups with the hopes of discovering a topic that really spoke to me. I just could not find anything that I thoroughly enjoyed or anything that added to my college experience and self discovery.

After searching for different clubs for a while, I decided to apply for ASB. I knew my older sister and brother had done ASB during their college years, and I thought that I would give it a try because they always raved about their experiences. I ended up missing the deadline for one of the groups I applied for but was accepted into the second group. While we had weekly reflections, these did not necessarily prepare me for how eye-opening of an experience I was going to have while on my ASB trip.

During my freshman-year spring break, I was fortunate enough to go to the South Side of Chicago — the place that tourists avoid when they visit famous sites like the Bean. We were going to be working with an organization that provided jobs for people who had recently been released from prison. The organization provided jobs, shelters, and frankly, a second chance at life. Admittedly I went in with a list of qualities that I thought these people would possess. Society so often tries to tell us that people who go to jail are bad people and that they are mean, scary, and unrelatable.

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This view that I had held about the types of people who go to prison was completely and absolutely shattered when I had the opportunity to interact with the men with whom we worked. Over the course of the week, I learned that they had been placed in unfortunate circumstances that they had no control over, and their personalities were warm, inviting, and so very kind. They taught me so much about how the criminal justice system is failing its people, how to have an open mind, and how to expect much more out of people than you give them credit for.

After the week ended with the organization, we had a reflection with our participants and the men with whom we worked. They explained to us that, through the friendships formed and conversations had, they realized how much potential they had to change their community. Since then, I have watched them take strides to combat teen gang violence in their community by creating their own organization. Also, they showed me how to effectively and passionately be an agent of change and how to positively interact with the surrounding community. I learned from them that ASB is not about entering a community and trying to “fix” what you may perceive to be broken. Rather, ASB is about entering a community with the hopes that you and the participants will go through an eye-opening experience together and learn from each other, and I thank them so much for that.

To share your Alternative Spring Break story, e-mail the ASB Public Relations Team at ASBSurPRise@umich.edu.

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