Immersion Trips: A step towards a global outlook rooted in faith

One of the things that differentiates Hope College from other colleges is Hope’s faith tradition. Each spring, campus ministries offer students a chance to develop their own faiths through different immersion trips. These trips aim to make students extensions of the hand of God through their actions and interactions with diverse communities.  

Ayanna Njoroge, a freshman studying environmental science, describes her immersion trip experience as inspiring, fulfilling, and joyous. Njoroge is an international student from Kenya and her intent in participating in the immersion trip was to travel and experience the culture of a different country. Initially, Njoroge was not interested in participating in the immersion trips because she was worried about overcommitting herself as a freshman. In addition, she was concerned about the cost of the immersion trip. When she heard about the Dominican immersion program, however, from a friend and the scholarships available for students, it sparked an interest to participate in the Santo Domingo, Dominican immersion program. Many of the immersion trips were to help communities and the Dominican immersion trip helped build a chapel for local members, which made Njoroge even more excited.

To familiarize themselves with the place, Njoroge mentions that they first took a walk around the town and then started constructing panels at the location they were staying at. They also went to a local church and heard a Spanish sermon with the help of a translator. In addition, they also did evangelism by inviting people to church, which could have been hard because of the language barrier. Some students on the trip spoke Spanish which helped Njoroge pick up a few words that helped her communicate with the locals. “My understanding of Spanish improved a lot. I had more words than I came in with,” said Njoroge.

Njoroge mentions that she experienced cultural shock because the locals racially looked like her, but spoke Spanish instead of Kiswahili. “I subconsciously had an instinct of speaking to them in Kiswahili, even though I knew that was not the language they spoke,” she said. Despite the language difference, most of the cultural practices in Santo Domingo were relative to Njoroge and to the Kenyan culture. She described it as “a substitute to home.” 

The most memorable experience for Njoroge was building the chapel. “It was a fulfilling experience to participate and see the whole process from start to finish,” she said. Njoroge assumed there might be a disconnect with the culture; however, “we got along pretty well and stepped out of our comfort zones, and had fun in the local community. I tried not to build expectations because I did not know much about the trip, and it was a last-minute decision that I didn’t have time to build. It is not negative to have expectations, but I think it’s important to manage expectations. It is important to be open to them being confronted or changed.”

Njoroge and her team in the Dominican Republic.

Njoroge mentions that the biggest difficulty that came with being a part of the trip was navigating the difference between the culture of the group and the culture of the Dominicans that were a part of the experience. “On the trip, I recognized how significant differences are culturally from American culture to Dominican culture,” she elaborated. One of the major lessons that Njoroge learned as a part of her trip was willing to be used by God because “there are many situations that you may not expect to be used, but when you are to accept it and run with it.” Secondly, she also learned that it is important to be open to being comfortable with the uncomfortable. “There is bound to be uncomfortable [situations] when one changes [locations] geographically,” she said.

John Kim, a sophomore majoring in exercise science, described his experience as one that taught him to be grateful and showed him what community is like. Kim said he was not interested in the immersion trips until a chaplain in charge reached out to him to be a part of it. “I prayed about it and then I accepted the offer to go to Austin, Texas as a team leader for our group,” explained Kim. In Austin, Kim and his team visited a community of people that used to be homeless. For most of the day, his group went around and talked to these people. “Even though they were strangers, the people in the community were welcoming,” Kim said. 

Immersing themselves in the community made Kim appreciate and realize what a true community should look like because “they were so giving with us and with each other.” Kim mentions that the most difficult part of the trip was seeing homeless people hiding from the authorities under the highways. “In Austin, Texas, they have a rule that homeless people can’t sleep on the streets even though that is all they have left,” said. 

Njoroge advises that students embark on the opportunity of immersing themselves with different people and get out of their comfort zone by doing immersion trips. “It is a great space to grow and expand your community, and make the world a bit smaller. When you hear about all these countries abroad it feels distant (geographically and culturally) because you have no connection with the people. The Dominican immersion trip brought me and the Dominican Republic closer together not in terms of distance but relatability,” she said. Kim also agrees that students should participate in this opportunity because it allows them to get out of the bubble of Hope college. Immersion trips are an impactful way to spend spring break, and Njoroge advises students to plan early because of scholarship opportunities.   
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