The beginning of my immersion experience began a year ago when I went on the San Jose (SJ) First-Year Immersion. My reasoning? I didn’t sign up in time for the Into the Wild trip and wanted to know some faces before starting college. And so, I applied for the SJ First-Year Immersion thinking that I would meet a few cool people who were into community service too. (Disclaimer: Immersions are not just about community service or “helping people.” See Bullets 3 and 4 for more info.)
The focus of the SJ Immersion was learning about the issue of poverty and homelessness in the San Jose area. I don’t want to sound cheesy, but my immersion experience was life-changing and eye-opening and broadened my view of the world and understanding of people. The experiences from the immersion and the people we met and talked with — their stories — stuck with me throughout all of the last year.
Whenever I saw another student I met from the immersion trip on-campus, I’d constantly wonder, “Do you still think about them too?” Obviously, the SJ Immersion had a special place in my heart, and so I decided to apply to lead the SJ First-Year Immersion for the Class of 2021.
(From left to right:) My co-leader, Yesi, myself, and the Director of Immersions himself, Charles.
Being on the other side this time and helping to organize reflections and serve as a student leader was an entirely different experience, one that I am very grateful for. It was a fine balance, learning to be a leader but also a peer, given that I am only a year older than all the first-year immersion participants.
Nonetheless, I learned a lot about myself as a leader on the trip, which has helped me to grow and develop in other parts of my life in the classroom and clubs.
The first-year SJ Immersion participants (my babies!) getting some ice cream in downtown SJ.
Coming back from the SJ Immersion for the second time, I’m more motivated than ever to act for change, share the stories of all the people we met, and solve the issue of homelessness (Go big or go home!). My two immersion trips to SJ have definitely been one of the highlights of college so far, and here’s why every SCU student should go on an immersion too!
1. Meet people who share similar values
Although SCU is a small school and has a small campus, you’d be surprised at the number of people you could simply pass and not talk to over the course of your four years. Everyone gets involved with various clubs and activities and those are the people who end up in your social circles.
The great thing about immersion trips is that they expand your social circle at SCU and bring together people of all backgrounds and identities who share similar values. I mean, they all spent the time to fill out an application for the immersion (those essay questions though) and are willing to give up a portion of their summer, winter, or spring break to go on an immersion and learn about social justice issues when they could be working, spending time with family and friends, or going on vacation.
Immersions are also a great place to get to know people on a deeper and more personal level. Your cell phones are taken away from you, yet the connection among people is higher than ever.
Ninjas ready to tackle some community service work at Sacred Heart Community Service
2. Travel and experience a new place
Although my immersion trip was local, SCU immersion trips travel all over the world, both domestically and internationally, from El Salvador and Ecuador to New Orleans and Arizona (just to name a few). Moreover, though, downtown SJ is literally just a 15-minute drive from SCU’s campus, it is a completely different world over there.
Going on the SJ immersion allowed me to learn about the gritty reality that is present and discover a new layer to SJ. What’s crazy is that you could go to SJ but be completely unaware of the ongoing homelessness and poverty. It’s there if you want to see it, but you could also go to just the nicer parts of downtown SJ and live in an ignorant bliss. That's why immersions are so important.
Going on a tour of downtown SJ led by Anthony, someone who previously experienced homelessness. Here we are outside First Presbyterian Church of San Jose
3. Engage in a community you might otherwise never be exposed to or interact with
For me, the SJ Immersion allowed me to talk with and interact with members of the community who are experiencing homelessness. This was a first for me, as all my life, I had been taught to avoid these "lazy bums" sleeping on the streets. Participants from the Mexico summer immersion trip talked with people who were crossing the border and stopping at the halfway point; some who had been deported a few times and nonetheless were trying to come again. Everyone has a story, a past, and is a byproduct of their experiences.
You can't judge someone before knowing everything that made them who they are today. This is probably my favorite part about immersions: seeking to hear what others have to say and learning from them. Immersions are about walking in solidarity with others, hearing their stories, and understanding what they’re going through.
First-year students Krystal and Chris talking with a regular at Recovery Cafe, a space that allows those affected by and experiencing homelessness and mental illness to gather.
4. Learn about various social justice issues
As a piggyback to #3: Whether it’s learning about the issue of poverty, education, and gang violence in Los Angeles or engaging in the urban and rural communities of India, this is the beauty of immersion trips. Contrary to what I thought prior to my immersion experience, immersions are not just service oriented.
Rather, the opposite.
You’re being immersed in the community, learning about the issues that they face, and the resources that are available. You’re learning about the end goal, the bigger picture, but also understanding how these problems came to be an issue in the first place. One constant theme of the SJ Immersion was charity vs. justice and how one can’t survive without the other but learning how they work together.
First-year students Tim (left) and Michael (right) helping sort clothes at Sacred Heart Community Service
5. Test the complexity of human emotions
Hopeful, mortified, inspired, heartbroken, frustrated, uncomfortable. These are just a sampling of the palette of emotions I experienced on my immersion trip. During the SJ immersions, we constantly heard stories of how people experiencing homelessness were dehumanized (ex: how someone experiencing homelessness was sleeping on a park bench and had been lit on fire because some other person thought it was “funny”) and deprived of their human dignity.
And I would be angry and frustrated that people like that even exist in this world. Yet, then we would visit places like Casa de Clara which focuses on getting people experiencing homelessness back on their feet and helping them readjust to “normal” society. Or, meeting with people like the Jesuit Volunteers who spend a year of their life doing service inspires me that there really is an abundance of good in this world, you just have to find it.
The squad at Casa de Clara San Jose Catholic Worker, a house that provides housing to women and children experiencing homelessness
6. Find your passions and pursue them
Immersions are not just about “doing good for a week” and then returning to campus and forgetting about your experience. Instead (and hopefully), immersion will make you feel more rustled and hungry to unite with others and spark something inside of you that brings positive change to the world.
Whether it's tackling the issue of homelessness, climate change, or racial inequality, we all have the ability to do something that has meaning and worth in this world, and I'm excited to see all the great things that my fellow immersion participants have yet to accomplish.
For anyone who is interested in participating on an immersion, you can visit the Ignatian Center’s website for more details. Winter Break 2017 Immersions go to the Arizona Border, San Francisco, New Orleans, Oakland, and El Salvador, and applications are due October 4th at 3 p.m.
Author's note: I was not endorsed in any way by the Ignatian Center to write about my immersion experiences or promote them. I simply just want to share my experiences with as many people as possible with the hope that we can come together and bring positive change for the world.