My First ABI Trip

My First ABI Trip

Blog Post 37 - Photo 1


Over spring break, I joined ten students and two graduate student leaders on an Alternative Break Immersion (ABI) trip to small town Mount Vernon, Kentucky. We filled two vans and traveled side by side for eight hours, driving south, past the Mason Dixie line. The program I attended was set up in collaboration with the organization A-SPI, Appalachia – Science in the Public Interest, with the focus on environmental justice and sustainable living.

One of my favorite days was spent cleaning up illegal trash dump sites, working alongside James, the leader of the program, and five inmates from the local prison. We were told that, for every certain number of days they worked, one day would be taken off their time. Getting the chance to work with, and talk to, people on such different paths than my own felt incredibly refreshing yet productive. One of the sites on our itinerary overlooked the highway, with the Appalachian Mountains as its backdrop. It was breathtakingly beautiful, even on that overcast and rather gloomy day. There, as my group collected a seemingly ever-growing hill of roof shingles, we engaged a hilarious conversation with Tim, one of the inmates—everything he said was funny because we didn’t know any of the older music references he was making. He was incredibly patient with us, answering our curious (yet, to him, probably very peculiar) questions, from whether he had tattoos to was he from the area to did he have any children. That encounter, a moment of experiencing the juxtaposition of two very disparate cultures, both urban Chicago and more rural Kentucky, as well as an older generation and a younger generation, coming together and mingling in laid-back conversation, was a definitely a memory worth keeping.

We also learned about “food deserts,” a term referring to situations where residents living in remote counties have very little access to healthy, fresh food, an environment in which, oftentimes, the only store that could be accessed is a nearby gas station. We also learned more about poverty in the area, and I was saddened to know that many families see no more than “a couple thousand dollars” flow through their hands each year.

Another aspect of the A-SPI trip, for us as students, was being immersed in minimalistic simplicity. We tried to “tread lightly,” minimizing water use by taking as few showers as possible. We slept on the ground, had a simple diet, and utilized hardly any technology.

On my 2015 Spring ABI, I was afforded the unique opportunity to visit a small town for the first time in my life. The experience opened my eyes to a different part of America, a sector of society that I had only read about, but really wanted to better understand. Sometimes, it is easy to assume that everyone in the United States lives as we do, but they don’t.

I also truly enjoyed getting to spend an entire week with a group of such funny, sassy individuals from Loyola.

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