I’ll be the first to admit that the opportunity to travel to a different country was one of the first things that attracted me to the Arrupe program. Why not spend time in a place that I would never normally visit? And without really having to pay, but by getting donations? This was my naive, rising sophomore logic. It was second semester of freshman year and I was dying to have an experience like the one Arrupe could offer me. So I showed up to the info session and applied, but was declined the chance to interview. I thought, "Screw this program and its selectiveness, I’ll just do a summer program abroad."
My first sophomore semester passed and quickly waterfalled into the spring. And, alas, it was too late to apply to the summer program I wanted, so when I saw the opportunity to apply for Arrupe again, I thought it would be worth a shot. This time around, I actually listened in the info session, I took time to answer my application questions, and I started thinking about the greater purpose of this program, aside from the international travel fact.
Lo and behold, I was called to interview for the Puebla winter break trip. I was surprised when I interviewed, and even more so when I was accepted. Even then, I didn't really know what I was getting myself into. But after a pretty half-baked sophomore year, I really wanted and needed something to ground me. What would happen from the first time my group awkwardly met to this past winter break is something I never, ever, ever expected. Trust me, it’s not what you think either.
On Jan. 2, I came back to BC early to leave for Puebla on the following day. Then, an unexpected Nor’Easter hit New England and forced our gracious travel agent to reschedule. We were not able to leave until the wee hours of Jan. 7. Then the absolutely unthinkable happened: The Polar “Day After Tomorrow” Vortex hit hard, especially in Chicago, where our connecting flight was.
Nothing was flying in or out of O’Hare, and given to popularity of Mexico as a destination in the winter, there was absolutely no way we could reschedule flights again. My group was the only Arrupe trip that didn’t make it to their destination, the first in the program’s history.
There was no protocol for this kind of a situation, because it had never happened before. Our fearless student leaders Tati and Rachi, as well as our mentors Rebecca and Nick, managed to take this situation and turn it around completely. After about 2-3 days of crying, I really started to think about the weekly meetings we had for the past semester, the time we spent together as a community when the first flight cancellation happened, the emotions I was feeling over the past couple of days, and the mission of the program.
I came to realize something that I don’t believe the other groups did. I don’t want to offend or degrade the experience of the other Arrupe members by any means. But I do want to take this opportunity to point something out to anyone thinking about applying.
Through Arrupe I met 11 incredible individuals that I would never have met otherwise. We all say campus is small, but it’s not that small. There are always people to meet, and if you don’t swim in similar streams it’s hard to meet someone totally and completely new. We could not be more different, but the more we got to know each other during the pre-trip retreat, the weekly meetings and the time we spent on campus waiting for the 7th to come, we realized there are more similarities than meet the eye.
I’m sure every group felt this connection. It’s inevitable when you spend so much time reflecting and sharing, and even more so when you experience the culture shock of a given community beyond US borders.
But on that Monday when my group found out that we would not be traveling at all over winter break, we reached a common ground that had not been reached before. The energy I felt in the room was raw and real, unreserved and uninhibited. Even those who seemed stoic in expression sent out a feeling that was palpable. It was, in all honestly, one of the hardest things I have experienced. The feeling of having something taken away from us that we had worked so hard for over the past semester, that shared disappointment, was devastating.
But I realized over the next couple of days that we continued to spend together, that I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. I went from applying to Arrupe for the travel to understanding the agapic love that we always talk about in our weekly reflections and meetings. It is not romantic, not selfish, not anything. It’s the kind of innate love you feel in your soul once you recognize another person’s soul. Twelve strangers were able to achieve that, without going to Mexico.
Of course, the “Puebla-kinda” clan (as we have come to call ourselves) is hoping to reschedule our trip at some point in this semester. But I can confidently say that each and every one of us gained something from what we went through this past winter break.
Although I have not gotten what most people would call the full Arrupe experience, I can give those who are looking to apply some guidance. You do not have to be religious by any means, and I mean that truly, you do not have to have the saddest story in the book or have the desire to volunteer in the Peace Corps post-grad, or even have any sort of involvement with the international community you wish to visit.
Of course the immersion and education of the communities Arrupe visits is essential, but it’s not just about that. The greater picture involves building your own community, immersing yourself into a group you wouldn't normally be a part of and and building yourself as an individual.
Expect to share, to feel naked, to feel uncomfortable and to be awkward sometimes. It’s only natural, especially when you don’t know your group members all that well. But after all the weird tension in the beginning breaks, expect to feel supported, accepted and cherished.
You’ll only gain the positive by going through the negative, and that’s what I’ve come to learn. And so, I’d like to take this moment to thank the Arrupe Program, Program Director Kelly Sardon-Gerrity, my two mentors Nick Campolettano and Rebecca Sharbaugh, my student leaders Tati Cortes and Rachi Saunders, and all of my fellow group members for showing me that. Puebla or not, this experience is more than I could have asked for.