Alternative Stories #13: This I can promise you

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. International Studies and Biology student and site leader Mackenzie McIntyre shares her story this week. 

1184939_10203294260339096_769816582_nHaphazardly stuffed with sleeping bags, rain coats, and (soon to be forgotten) economics textbooks, our white Dodge hybrid waits patiently on the corner of Church and Hill Street, preparing for the 18-hour adventure that would eventually deliver 11 college students to Waco, Texas. During a week when students tend to favor home-cooked meals, 24-hour Netflix binges, and the balmy breezes of Punta Cana, we will be working on a sustainable farm, engaging in a poverty simulation, and learning about the intersecting issues surrounding domestic hunger.

What could ever convince a group of college students to trade the sun, the sand, and the warmth of Mexico for seven days of service-learning on a sustainable farm in Texas? Well, I can’t speak for the other ten people in my van, but I can certainly attempt to describe the incredible sequence of events that eventually led to this moment.

My experience with Alternative Spring Break developed during a period of my life in which uncertainty characterized every moment. Uncertain friends. Uncertain groups. Uncertain major. Uncertain future.  As the thrill of freshman year dissipated, I was left without any sense of true belonging. I was a confused sophomore — too old to claim naivety, yet too inexperienced to feel secure.

I was searching for a family, but I felt too lonely. I was yearning for a purpose, but I couldn’t seem to pin one down.  I was craving a challenge, but was left unmotivated.

Everything felt so uncertain.

I involved myself deeply with each class and organization possible, but couldn’t force myself to engage, glazing meaninglessly over assignments and activities. The first few months were lost — a mindless string of separated moments, with no connected passion or direction. Panicked, overwhelmed, and entirely exhausted, I submitted my transfer applications, believing I could find my home on another campus.

I also, in a strange and pivotal decision, applied for Alternative Spring Break. Sixteen weeks, eight group meetings, and one denied transfer application later, I found myself travelling the I-80 interstate, headed to God’s Love We Deliver in Brooklyn, New York with some of the ASBest people on campus.

1013349_10202406043885191_664102041_nFrom making and delivering meals for individuals living with HIV/AIDS, to the hour-long conversation with the janitor (who happened to be a stellar break-dancer and an acquaintance of Madonna), rarely was a dull moment spent in Brooklyn that week. But what originally served as an affordable alternative to the clubs and beaches of Miami, and a last-ditch effort to find my place at Michigan, quickly proved to create an impact far more complex than expected.  Though my time in New York was both thrilling and humbling, my ASB experience cannot be contained within ten short days.

For me, ASB changed how I interacted with the campus of Michigan — the link between how I felt, how I saw the world, and the actions I could take to create positive change. I not only engaged with the service organization and the community in Brooklyn, but also with myself: my ideas, my perceptions, my advantages, my disadvantages, my impact on society.

I listened to how others viewed the world, and changed how I viewed mine. I felt challenged, but safe. I was aware of my differences, but always accepted. I began to learn unbiasedly, think critically, and engage respectfully. I understood how to question the present, in order to challenge and shape the future. And by the end of sophomore year, I had built a family here on campus, one that far surpasses weekly meetings, spring break service trips, or matching apparel (though my personal stash of ASB shirts is a prized possession).

My time with ASB will end. The weekly meetings, the reflection questions, the group icebreakers — all will eventually cease. My perspectives will shift. My opinions will disappear and reappear. My level of engagement with service learning will fluctuate. But the lessons and experiences ASB has given me will continue to shape each future moment. I will continue to move about this world with critical thought. I will continue to enter and exit into different communities. I will continue to serve my passion for social justice. And I, with many other participants and site leaders, will never stop questioning our place in this world.

Through ASB, I’ve learned that we cannot create a perfect society because every individual’s definition of perfect is shaped by their own unique experiences and identities.  But recognizing our different perspectives, and learning how we engage with ourselves and our world, are key steps to creating positive change.

We can’t promise a perfect trip, but we can promise some unforgettable experiences.

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

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