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 Nikole Koszarycz, a nursing student and ASB site leader.
I initially decided to apply for ASB during my freshman year because my learning community, the Health Sciences Scholars Program (HSSP), was sponsoring its own trip. Unfortunately, I was not given a spot. I was upset and a little hurt, since most of my closest friends were offered spaces on the trip, but despite this disappointment, I decided to apply to the greater pool of ASB trips. I chose Youth and Education for my site topic, and was placed on a trip to go to Chicago’s Jane A. Neil School, an elementary and middle school for children of all abilities.
I had chosen Youth and Ed because I was comfortable working with children, and because most of the volunteer programs I had been a part of in the past were centered on youth. With that, I never anticipated meeting a group of such open-minded, kind, and mature children as I met at Jane A. Neil. What was interesting about Neil was that it was a school in which children of all types of physical and mental abilities were integrated in the classroom together. I had never experienced a school with this type of program, and I was struck by the compassion and understanding that each child had for one another. They fought, joked around, and were curious like every other child I had ever come across, and instead of focusing on their disabilities, I began to realize that they were simply differently-abled. Although many of the children opened up about the difficulties they faced every day, they also opened up about their favorite activities, their best friends, as well as their dreams and ambitions. This gave me the perspective that all kids are simply kids, in their innocence, in their joy, and in their imagination, no matter their differences. Although I was sad to leave, the experience I had at Neil made me adopt a new way of thinking, and I realized that there is not one right way to do one thing, but that, in fact, there are a million ways to accomplish something. What is good and what is normal is unique to our own perspectives.
With the wonderful experience that I had at Neil, I decided that I wanted to become a site leader. This past spring break, I was given the opportunity to lead a trip of 10 students to Fort Worth, TX, to volunteer at Samaritan House, a permanent housing residence and safe haven for people that live below the poverty line and are affected by HIV/AIDS.
I cannot explain with words how much this last trip impacted me. From the very first day, we were taken aback by the incredible kindness and generosity of the staff and residents. Each afternoon, we sat and ate lunch with the people who lived there, and we were also given the opportunity to listen to some of their stories. So many people spoke about the personal struggles they had faced in the past, as well as the obstacles they currently face. I felt fortunate enough to be able to listen to what they had to say and to get a closer understanding of a viewpoint that was different from my own. The people I met at Samaritan House further reinforced the thought that everyone deserves to be loved, to be cared for, and to have support. I learned so much about homelessness as well as the social impacts for individuals who face HIV/AIDS, and I began to recognize how much your environment impacts you, whether it is a positive or negative impact.
As participants, we questioned our beliefs and challenged our own preconceived notions, and I believe that with this, we became a more thoughtful, compassionate, and caring group of individuals. I was so proud of my participants and was amazed by how much growth they demonstrated as the trip continued, which made me recognize how fulfilling it is to be a site leader. I learned that everyone has a different perception of reality, and that perception is greatly defined by how we grow up. Not one person will always have the same belief systems as the other, and so, the best way to bring about social change and to help one other is to first understand each other. Only when we make an effort to see a viewpoint that is different from our own, become friends with people who are unique from us, and make an effort to step outside of our comfort zones, can we finally start to make a difference. The ASB trips we participate in may only last for a week, but what we learn during this (too) short period of time always influences me for the better.
To share your Alternative Spring Break story, e-mail the ASB Public Relations Team at ASBSurPRise@umich.edu.