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    April 12, 2017

    Unpacking the Ecuador "Backpack"

    Reflection grounded the emotional ups and downs of this year’s annual service/immersion trip to Quito, Ecuador. After a week of service with the Center for Working Families, 17 strangers and classmates became friends and teammates—an inevitable result of shared tears, laughs, and lessons.


    The group captured each bittersweet moment in a shared blog that became a combined “backpack” of their trip: a place for them to store their memories and experiences of the day to always carry and treasure. During the group’s daily reflections, they had the chance to “unpack” this “backpack” and study the experiences they gathered during the day, and at the same time, fill their own “backpacks” with even more wisdom.


    “Tonight during reflection we spoke about our commitment and understanding of service and our response to suffering,” wrote the group on their first day. By the second, they were already gathering a sense of these sufferings, as Cindy Alvarez ‘18 reflected during a teaching session earlier in the day: “Seeing this woman sitting across from me struggling to do basic math really hit me hard. For all of you reading this, don’t take anything for granted, even your ability to read, write, do simple math... they’re all skills that many are not fortunate to have.”


    After one particular night of reflection, Sidney Silva ‘18 recorded: “We all woke up this morning with puffy eyes and full hearts, thanks to our emotional reflection last night.”


    Quickly these reflections became an inseparable part of their service, practicing the Jesuit ideal of examen, which praises the search for powerful insight in moving experiences in order to enlighten a more mindful approach to similar situations in the future. As Rachelle Walters ‘18 wrote, “For me one of my favorite parts of this trip is coming together every night after a long day, and reflecting upon our thoughts and feelings of what we experienced that day. Today we dug deep into our own personal opinions and thoughts of poverty after what we saw today.”


    Walters put examen to practice, discovering poverty in our own lives. She continues, “In Quito, it seems that people have a great sense of community and care for one another. That is something I would love to see at home in the United States. We often become too complacent with not helping others around us.”


    But the group’s examen didn’t end in Ecuador. “A critical piece of our mission is what happens once students return to campus, how they continue to reflect on the experience, how they integrate what they’ve learned about themselves and others and finally, what do they do about it,” says Beth Scanlon, director of the Alternative Break Program. “I find that some students ‘unpack’ the trips for years after.”


    And indeed, it seems these students will be unpacking their Ecuador backpack for quite some time, as expressed in the group’s bittersweet goodbye to their students. “With the tears and joy we shared, I believe the moment stands still in their hearts forever… just as this moment will carry on with us.”


    Article by Kaelin E. Foody '18. Kaelin is interning with the Office of Communications this semester.