A Series of Firsts: My First Spring Break

A Series of Firsts: My First Spring Break

Me and my ABI peers under the St. Louis Arch.
March 2018.

Hello everybody! Sorry for the short hiatus, this semester has been very busy for me! But I’m back from Spring Break, refreshed and ready to finish this semester strong!

After spending a week in sunny Cancún with my family, I keep going back to what my first Spring Break at Loyola was really like. As my first semester at Loyola went by my Peer Advisor, Kristi, had mentioned that if we wanted our experience at Loyola to be fruitful and to feel align with Loyola’s Ignatian values that we should consider going on an Alternative Break Immersion. ABIs at Loyola are a kind of mission trips organized by Campus Ministry in which students fully immerse themselves in a community for a short period of time to learn about the issues that these communities face, ranging from environmental issues to urban poverty and lack of education. What Kristi said resonated with me: I wanted to make the most of my Loyola experience, and I wanted to learn more about the issues that U.S. society has to face. This way, I decided to go on an ABI for my first Spring Break, and I soon learned that I had been placed in the group that would go to East St. Louis, IL, right next to St. Louis, MO.

I did not know what to expect from my ABI, as I had no clue where East St. Louis was located in the first place. However, Campus Ministry organizes ABIs in such a way that students going on the same trip have the opportunity to get to know each other and their Leader at least 2 times before the trip begins. As we met with my peers, we talked about the issues that we would see East St. Louis residents: the persistence of food deserts in the area, a great amount of poverty and homelessness, and the lack of good public education systems. We discussed how we wanted to avoid the “savior complex” to present itself during our trip, that we were going to East St. Louis to offer as much help possible without thinking that we would solve all their problems in 5 days. This is when I realized that my ABI would be a learning experience, especially for my peers and me.

The ABI itself was an experience that opened my mind, my heart, and my soul. As we settled down in the house that would host us for the week (shoutout to the students from Creighton who shared the house with us),  Responsibilities for us volunteers included helping at a soup kitchen and visiting a family at their temporary home. However, I chose to volunteer as a teacher assistant at the Catholic School in the neighborhood we were staying at, helping the First Grade teacher, Mrs. Mattern. I was there to help them with their class work and to do the little tasks that Mrs. Mattern might need help with. However, the kids were eager to play with me and learn about where I came from, and they always wanted me to be “it” while playing tag. They made me feel at home, and it was very hard to say goodbye on the last day.

No matter the role we partook in, everybody in my group was always with the members of the community of East St. Louis. Everybody I met was so kind, and always asked if I found myself alright and if I needed help with anything. Can you believe? Me, a volunteer, being asked if I needed help. It struck me like lighting. We were in a community that was given little by the government and outsiders, and yet, they had everything to give us: their hearts and their homes. Just like in Mrs. Mattern’s, we were surrounded by kindness and love for the neighbor throughout our week in East St. Louis. And as the ABI experience is all about reflection, every night we would come together and reflect on what our mission in East St. Louis was, and what we had learned that day. Through journaling and daily examines, I started getting a sense that my ABI trip was not only a mission trip, but also an experience of self-discovery and refleection on our mission at Loyola and in the world.

Yes, my first Spring Break did not fit the stereotype of what this kind of vacations look like: it definitely wasn’t sunny, and I didn’t have the chance to see my family nor spend time with my friends. However, my ABI trip to East St. Louis was so much more than I could’ve asked for. I was able to get to know my fellow peers, a group of young and value-driven people who supported me throughout our time at St. Louis and. But most importantly, I got to meet some of the people of East St. Louis, who showed me a side of the U.S. that as an international student I had never seen. And despite the conditions that the community found itself in, I could see there was hope for things to get better: I saw it in the parents who dropped off their kids at school, I saw it in the teachers and staff of the school, and I even saw it in the children, who shared with me their hopes for the future.

My ABI was an eye-opening experience, to say the least, and I hope that what I learned in East St. Louis will allow me to help others, now and in the future. I still think about the children at To learn more about ABIs, go to this site.

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