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, nursing student and site-leader Merin Paul shares her story.
Freshman year was a whirlwind of meeting new people and having new experiences, but also finding my place at the University of Michigan, which can be hard when you are on a campus of thousands of students. You’re not sure where to start.
I had applied to Alternative Spring Break by complete chance my first semester, encouraged by peers in my living-learning community at the time, but not thinking anything of it — I was an introvert and really didn’t think I would be accepted. But I honestly loved volunteering from my experiences in high school; the act of giving to another without asking anything in return was always a mantra revered by my parents and instilled in me. I was really surprised when I was accepted to our trip, and thinking back, it was the best thing that could have ever happened to me freshman year. I can only think that my site-leaders saw something in me — something that I didn’t, in choosing to be on our ASB trip — because, without ASB, I can say that I would not have half the confidence in who I am or what I stand for at this university today.
Our trip was a Health and Disabilities trip to Peaceable Kingdom Retreat for Children (PKRC) in Killeen, TX., a camp for pre-K through high school youth with disabilities, where they could experience the same outdoor activities that able-bodied children regularly did. Going in, I was a bit uneasy, as I had never worked with kids before. I worried about how I would interact with them or even if I would be able to relate to them. Health and Disabilities was a topic I was passionate about as a nursing student, but also from growing up with a family friend with autism. What I loved about PKRC was how incredibly inclusive it was to all campers, adapting activities so that campers could have experiences perhaps not always accessible to people with disabilities.
I remember one of my experiences at PKRC very clearly: A few others from my ASB group and I had been assigned the task of fishing with some of the older campers for part of the day. I was a bit apprehensive because I had never fished before but also because I had never worked with older children. What if they didn’t like me or didn’t want to talk to me? What if I didn’t know how to aid them if they needed me to? I let these irrational fears flood my head at we waited by the dock for the kids to arrive, but once the yellow school bus pulled up and we started greeting the kids as they got out, my fears quickly dissipated. They were so excited to fish, and thrilled when we started handing out the rods, that it made me even more pumped to experience this for the first time along with them. Some of the kids who were quieter and introverted I could easily relate to, and we quickly hit it off during conversation. These same campers would soon talk ecstatically about their favorite teachers at school, and when a fish finally bit, the excitement was uncontainable. It was in that moment I came to understand that disabilities do not and should not define people.
I grew a lot personally and with my peers on that trip. As we reflected each night, talking about our experiences each day and about the moments when we were scared or uncertain, I realized I was not the only student with these insecurities; we were all vulnerable to an extent. This brought us together only too quickly, and I can easily say my PKRC family is a family I grew to rely on long after the trip was over. Without ASB, I would not be who I am today at Michigan, which is why I was motivated to apply to be a site leader last year. If I could contribute at all to other participants’ self-exploration, camaraderie, awareness, confidence or excitement during their ASB experiences in the same way that I was lucky to have received, that will have been be my greatest accomplishment.
To share your Alternative Spring Break story, e-mail the ASB Public Relations Team at ASBSurPRise@umich.edu.