Students’ Alternative Service Break Experiences Bring Valuable Lessons on Life, Learning and Purpose
Morgan Wilkins chose to spend her 2015 Spring Break not on the beaches of Fort Lauderdale but learning generations-old weaving techniques in Guatemala through NC State’s Alternative Service Break (ASB) trip program. This is a unique service-learning experience in which students engage in direct service to a community, while being immersed in the culture and customs of that community. Teams are led by student team leaders and accompanied by faculty advisors. Throughout the trip, team members participate in a variety of cultural, educational, recreational and reflective activities to enhance their service experience.
Students volunteer across the country and around the globe. Morgan, a Fashion and Textile Design major, chose to travel to Guatemala with a 16-person team who focused on gender issues within the area. She shares thoughts on her experience in her own words:
Guatemala was one of the best experiences of my life, to say the least. On this trip I learned so much about myself but I also learned much more about how textiles is deeply ingrained in the Guatemalan culture. I was able to see up close hand-weaving techniques that I have never seen before. I was even able to interact with the beautiful Guatemalan women who have passed these techniques down through the generations and could hear many stories about the reasons why this craft is so cherished in their culture.
While being here I also gained insight on the ways to incorporate sustainability into everyday practices of textile design. This was something that I haven’t learned much in an academic setting and is something that should definitely be ingrained more in the fashion industry. Thanks to the Guatemala ASB trip I was able to broaden my horizon on issues that are constantly pushed to the back burner in society. Now, design is much more than just creating something “beautiful” but is more about creating something that has a meaning and purpose behind it. I am able to showcase both of my passions in a much more innovative way because of this amazing trip. I can incorporate my passion for fighting against social injustices into my designs while sparking controversy and making people think when seeing my designs. I am so grateful that I was able to go on this trip and be further shaped and matured as a designer.
Students who are interested learning more about this particular opportunity can review the program page. It’s also important to attend one of the Alternative Service Break Information Sessions.
Other Wilson College of Textiles students, like Fashion and Textile Management major Jenna Calderone, have participated in similar Alternative Service Break programs. Jenna traveled to Belize to partner with the Toledo Cacao Growers Association on a poverty-reduction initiative.
Jenna shares her thoughts on the experience:
The work was incredibly hard, especially in the Belizean heat (on the hottest day, it was 95 Fahrenheit with 87 percent humidity), but it was more than rewarding, and I look forward to seeing how the Maya House grows in the next few years.
Perhaps the best part of the trip was the cultural exposure. Belize is such unique country. It’s located in Central America, enveloped by Mexico to the north, Guatemala to the West, and Honduras to the South. It is incredibly diverse, with sizable populations of Mestizos, Belizean Kriol, Garifuna, German Mennonites, and East Indians.
This week also taught me a lot about privilege. We are all very, very lucky to live in a country like America. However, it is important that we learn to learn; the idea of service is not to swoop in and make things better, it is to respect, marvel at, and learn from cultural institutions that have been in place for thousands of years while humbly providing whatever talents you might bring to the table. I am still in awe of the beauty and light within each person I met during my short time in Belize. I sincerely hope I can go back someday, this time bringing the people I love with me, and revisit every tiny restaurant and see all of the new Belizean friends I made and walk the streets of Punta Gorda and remember one of the best weeks of my college experience.