International Service Immersion
Our international service immersion experiences began with our inaugural experience to Guayaquil, Ecuador in June of 2013. Students had the opportunity to be completely immersed in a culture different than their own through spending time and serving with neighbors in the Ecuadorian community. This experience of spending time and serving with our neighbors laid the foundation for our service immersion programs. Students serve and live with communities in other countries to understand that they can make an impact on someone by sharing their lives with them in mutual respect and love. Many times, students return realizing how much their lives were impacted by the communities of people where they served.
These experiences have provided students with opportunities to explore their faith in the context of serving with, and for, other communities around the United States. Similar to our Alternative Break programs, we hope our students will be able to use these interactions to develop a “faith that does justice” through reflecting on our four pillars.
The Four Pillars
This pillar acknowledges the importance of giving back to others by way of action. Service can come in many forms, including sitting and talking to Ecuadorian people, serving lunch at a soup kitchen, or sorting food at a food bank. We believe that “service” is a lifestyle. Even though alternative break groups serve for only a week, this service is meant to inspire a deeper commitment to serving others in every aspect of life, especially as members of the Merrimack community.
This pillar points to the reality that we are one human family whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they may be. Loving our neighbor has global dimensions in a shrinking world. On our trips, this takes the shape of humility and presence in the communities where we serve, recognizing the dignity of those we serve and acknowledging that we have as much to receive from those we are helping as we have to give Simple Living is an important element of practicing solidarity during our trips. We pack lightly, eat what is prepared for us, sleep in the spaces provided for us, and limit our use of technology so we can give of ourselves more freely to others. Each trip interprets simple living in their own way, whether it be through a community contract, a vow to use minimal resources, or making it work on a tight budget.
This pillar highlights the importance of sharing experiences and building equal, just, and loving relationships with one another. Inspired by the life and teaching of St. Augustine, we understand that the search for truth, wisdom, love, and justice is best done in the company of others, all of us giving our gifts freely and receiving gratefully from one another. We come together as communities of participants who reflect together, serve, and build relationships with the individuals and communities for whom we serve.
The foundation of our program and true to our Augustinian values that emphasize that knowing oneself is the key to truly knowing God and one another. Campus ministry staff and student leaders facilitate frequent reflection experiences before, during and after trips. These experiences are meant to help participants in our programs discover new perspectives about themselves, personally and spiritually. Additionally, reflection helps us engage with our service experiences on a deeper level by utilizing concepts in Catholic social teaching, such as the inherent dignity of the human person, our rights and responsibilities to others, and solidarity.
An overarching goal of the Alternative Break/International Service Immersion program is to work towards a more socially just society. We do this by examining our own lives, beliefs, and experiences; educating ourselves about systemic realities; participating in physical and spiritual work; and making connections with people and communities vulnerable to unjust systems, practices, and histories.
Finally, every dimension of our alternative break programs seek to embody the Augustinian values that inform the academic, social and spiritual dimensions of the Merrimack experience.