Alternative Break Immersions foster change

Tracy Riley (left), 21, and two of her fellow Alternative Break Immersion participants on their mountain hike near the Honduras border in May.  Photo courtesy of Tracey Riley
Tracy Riley (left), 21, and two of her fellow Alternative Break Immersion participants on their mountain hike near the Honduras border in May.
Photo courtesy of Tracey Riley

For most students school breaks are a time to sit back, relax and enjoy some free time. But some students choose to do something a little different; some students choose to go on Alternative Break Immersions (ABI).

Throughout the school year, Loyola offers ABIs within the United States, as well as in El Salvador, Guatemala and Jamaica.

An ABI provides students the opportunity to expand on education outside the classroom by living simply, building community and deepening faith while on a trip unlike anything they have ever experienced. This year the deadline to apply for an ABI is Nov. 4.

The immersions are open to all students, according to junior bio- chemistry major Emily Cybulla, the student coordinator for ABIs.

Cybulla, 19, attended an ABI during her freshman year in spring 2012 in Mt. Vernon, Ky. The trip was led by the organization Appalachia Science in the Public Interest. A group that “[uses] science and technology to benefit current and future generations and the environment by promoting innovative ideas and appropriate technologies,” according to its website. Cybulla said the experience she had and the people she met were unlike anything she had ever experienced before.

“My favorite part of the ABI was the people I got to meet in Kentucky,” Cybulla said. “The people there teach you more about yourself and they teach you more than you could ever teach them. They are truly doing you a service.”

Cybulla was made a student leader for the Kentucky ABI her sophomore year in spring 2013. She said both trips lasted six to seven days.

“While we were in Kentucky [during my freshman year] we were promoting the community of Mt. Vernon — not just economically but socially as well,” Cybulla said.

She said one of the major projects she assisted with while in Kentucky was helping to set up an area for the Mt. Vernon community garden. The community garden was a source that allowed community members to learn how to grow their own food, which promoted the importance of nutrition, according to Cybulla.

Cybulla also said she enjoyed when all the participants of the ABI shared their own personal feelings and experiences at the end of each day. She said seeing each individual’s transformative experience brought all of the ABI participants closer together.

“We all could connect through that transformative experience we had,” Cybulla said.

However, she said the hardest part about attending an ABI is having to return to Loyola’s campus afterward.

“When you experience something so far outside your comfort zone it is hard to adjust back to the campus life here,” Cybulla said. “We lived a simplistic lifestyle in Kentucky, so it is challenging to let yourself adjust again.”


The PHOENIX/Sydney South
The PHOENIX/Sydney South

Cybulla said she will be attending the 10-day Jamaica ABI trip in January 2014 as a student leader. According to Cybulla, a student leader’s role includes attending training meetings before leaving on the ABI, being the primary contact for the six to 12 students attending their trip, leading daily reflections while on the trips and interviewing applicants wanting to go on ABIs.

Similarly, Tracy Riley, a 21-year- old senior psychology major, attended an ABI in El Salvador during May 2013.

Riley said in El Salvador she was not assigned specific projects to complete, but she spent a lot of time talking to women’s cooperatives (a group of women helping other women through the teaching of technical skills) about how they have recovered and are still recovering from the Civil War that divided the country in the 1990s. She said this experience helped her connect with the culture of El Salvador.

“We learned about local women’s cooperatives and their culture and what they work on every day,” Riley said. “We also learned how they have recovered and how they were still recovering from the Civil War that ended in the ’90s.”

Two of the women’s cooperatives that the participants were introduced to were Acomujerza and Acaccpamu. Acomujerza runs a clothing store that sells uniforms to schools in Zaragoza, El Salvador. Acaccpamu is committed to preventing the privatization of water, according to Riley.

“I loved getting to know the women in each of the organizations,” Riley said. “They welcomed us with open arms and it was really nice to learn the history from the people who actually lived through it.”

In addition, she said she enjoyed trying the foods that were served, including plantains (a fruit very similar to bananas), pupusa (a traditional Salvadoran dish made of corn tortillas), beans and chicken.

One of the challenges Riley said she and the other participants had to adjust to was the living conditions. Riley said the sanitation of the water, as well as the water pressure, was very different than what she was used to.

“We had showers, but they had a small drip. Also, the water was unsanitary so we could not put our faces in [it],” Riley said.

Riley said the main reason she chose to do an ABI was to travel, but because of the academic demands of her major she would not be able to study abroad. She said the ABI let her experience another country while not being away from Chicago for too long.

“Going on an ABI shaped me wanting to go back to Central America,” Riley said. “My favorite part was having reflections on the days because you realize you learn a lot about yourself, faith and justice.”

Attending an ABI influenced Riley so much that she said she will be attending an ABI in Jamaica in January 2014.

Students who are interested in applying to attend an ABI should visit Financial aid is available for ABIs upon application. The deadline to apply to attend an ABI is Nov. 4.

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