When most Boston College students hear the phrase “men and women for others,” they are entranced. They begin looking around frantically for the nearest opportunity to serve the world around them. While the importance of service is undeniable, the Arrupe International Program takes a different approach. For participants in Arrupe, the experience is all about immersing an individual into a host culture. So what does immersion really mean?
For eight to ten days at the end of winter break, participants travel in “small communities” to various areas of Latin America. The areas include: Belize, Chiapas, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Jamaica, Morelos, Nicaragua, and Puebla. Each small community consists of 10 to 12 students, along with two student leaders and two mentors. Once assigned to a location, each community spends months raising money, forming bonds with one another, and reflecting on their own experiences to fully prepare for the trip. Once the time comes, each Arrupe group travels to their designated area to live in some of the most impoverished areas of the world, empowering them to love, discern, and live in solidarity.
The Gavel reached out to three Arrupe participants to get first-hand accounts on the importance of this immersion experience.
After traveling with her small group to Belize, Delia Karamouzis, MCAS ’19, said she returned to campus with a new perspective.
“I gained a profound appreciation for many of the things we take for granted in the U.S. [I] also recognized how much bearing our country has on the world, and our duty to use that influence responsibly,” she said. “Through immersion, I also learned the importance of preservation of one’s culture. Many ethnic groups in Belize, like the Mayans and the Garifuna, have so much pride in their culture and work tirelessly to share love and appreciation for their culture so that it may live on for future generations.”
Mark Nichting, CSOM ’19, who traveled with his small community to Nicaragua, recalled being surprised by people’s knowledge of American culture. Most people that he met knew at least some sort of English, and students knew all about the American school system, so why did he know so little about them before becoming involved in Arrupe? This is the exact reason Arrupe’s idea of immersion is so important.
As Mark notes, “Immersion is being painfully present with the members of the community you’re in. We recognize that our visit, since only about a week long, won’t have some crazy, large impact on its own, but it can bring us closer to solidarity. We may not have done any direct service, but we focused on learning about their history, their experiences, and their culture. We made a promise that we would take their stories back with us and share them.”
Similarly, Peter King, MCAS ’19, pointed out, “Immersion is about being accepting of knowledge and experience and having a full capacity to love those we encounter. In Chiapas, there was one beautiful quote I heard on how to immerse myself. It went, ‘manos vacías y una corazón abierta,’ which translates to ‘empty hands and an open heart.’” For Peter, this quote really summed up what it means to be immersed.
Immersion is about living in another person’s reality, even if only for a week. The Arrupe International Immersion Program recognizes the vitality of immersion in a world that can be greatly divided. Arrupe is a way for students to become engaged in the world around them, beyond what they see in their everyday lives.