Something that James Madison University offers to students is the opportunity to attend an Alternative Break program during Thanksgiving, winter and spring break. An Alternative Break is the opportunity to dedicate one week of your vacation entirely to service and serving others in a lesser state than you are. I didn’t learn about this opportunity until this year, which is slightly upsetting because I’m a second semester senior and I really feel like I haven’t utilized all of the amazing opportunities that JMU has to offer (but that is saved for a later post). The process for attending an Alternative Break is a lottery process, to make it equal and fair to all that are applying. A lottery process allows students to enter once into the drawing and then attend the lottery picking so that they can pick which trip they’d like to go on. I was so surprised that my name was read off the list and I received the last spot on the trip to Ecuador. I’ve never won anything before!!!
Myself and ten other students were chosen to travel to Ecuador to volunteer with a local elementary school in an impoverished area. The group consisted of 12 volunteers (two trip leaders and one learning partner), of various backgrounds, majors, age and experiences coming together to share a week long trip in a different country for the greater good. What an experience, especially because we were all strangers before coming onto the trip together! Our main mission was to help the school, Escuela Semillita, in any way that we can. We helped to clean the facilities, were assigned to one specific grade, helped the students practice their english and assisted teachers. The cultural immersion was daunting in the beginning, especially because many of the teachers and students did not speak any english and many of our volunteers could not speak any spanish.
Gradually through out the week I was able to practice the four years of spanish I had taken in high school. I fell in love with the language and the culture of Ecuador. It’s surprising to think that there are people in other areas around the world who have so much less than we do in America, yet they are so grateful and appreciative of everything that they do have. The gratitude and love that we felt from everyone in Escuela Semillita was insurmountable! I had the opportunity to create connections and relationships with not only the students, but with teachers and parents. They showered our group with their best and so much hospitality. I’ve decided to give myself two years to save up for another trip and to return to Guayaquil, Ecuador to visit the students, parents and teachers.