One of the benefits of a liberal arts education is the opportunity for students to develop themselves beyond the classroom curriculum specific to their major or minor. For most students, this looks like the completion of the courses listed under “required” to graduate. However, Hope’s statement on Christian identity and the belief that the knowledge and morals students develop in the classroom should be transferable has resulted in many individuals venturing out on an immersion trip during their spring break. Talking to Annie Kopp (’22), who traveled to the Dominican Republic last March, illustrates that the benefits of the experience are endless. When questioned about what pushed her to try this trip, she stated, “I went to the Dominican Republic during my senior year of high school and loved it. Therefore, I definitely knew I wanted to go somewhere in Latin America for my immersion trip as I am very interested in the culture and history of the Dominican Republic and Haiti specifically.” Given the chilly winter and few inches of snow that have perpetually coated the ground these past few months, it makes sense that many students would desire to travel south to seek warmer weather. However, an immersion trip is not like a vacation to Florida with family where you can lounge on the beach all day. Though Kopp mentioned going to the beach once or twice, she emphasized the main focus of the trip was giving back to the community. She explained, “We spent the majority of our time building a church, and then we interacted with their youth group and attended one of their youth nights.”
One of the qualms some individuals have with immersion trips is their lack of sustainability. When asked about how her particular trip or Hope in general combatted this accusation, Kopp explained, “Before traveling to the Dominican Republic Hope taught us how to approach the trip so it was sustainable for the community we entered. It was explained to us that the church we built was funded using half of the funds the parish raised, and the other half came from the money we as students paid to go on the trip. The thought was that if the church can raise half of the funds, they will be able to sustain the project once we leave.” For those skeptical about immersion trips, this knowledge would be very reassuring to know that the work is continued beyond the time the students are there. According to Kopp, however, the immersion trip differed from what would be considered “normal” for the experience. She explained, “On most immersion trips, there is more worshipping and praying with the people from that community. However, we were more interactive. While there was still time set aside to be quiet and alone with your thoughts and God, we were more hands-on.”
The experience lends itself to more than just learning about different cultures or offering students the opportunity to give back and explore a new country. It gives them the chance to meet new people and make connections beyond the bounds of campus. One of Kopp’s most cherished aspects of the whole experience was the community that she formed. She shared, “The best thing I got out of the trip was the community I built. I still have friends that I met while I was there, and it is nice to expand my circle beyond those people that I normally interact with, like those in my grade or in my major. I was able to meet a wide variety of people.”
Immersion trips can be a controversial concept, but after hearing first hand the enthusiasm, kindness and community that can come from such a trip, it is hard to think it would not be worth a try. The way Hope conducts its missions shows that the institution seeks to sustain the aid offered beyond the time students are on site. Helping others help themselves has long been a goal of Hope college, and it applies to more than just immersion trips. By offering students the opportunity to branch out and experience new countries and cultures, these trips are helping students find themselves through travel and generosity. Immersion trips can be a great way to make Spring Break worthwhile for students at Hope and for other communities around the world.