Breaking out of the bubble

Spring Break was, without a doubt, one of our favorite weeks of freshman year. Never have we laughed so hard, learned so much or eaten such quantities of ice cream. This is the magic of alternative Spring Break trips. Last year, we were two of a group of eight students from all different class years who traveled to Window Rock, Ariz. to volunteer on the Navajo Nation Reservation for a week. While there, we volunteered in the local schools during the day and led workshops at the local community center in the afternoons. We also explored the local culture and hiked the nearby canyons. But the real question is, why should Williams students participate in these Spring Break trips, and why do they deserve college funding?

First of all, these trips provide an opportunity to do something useful and important during the break. At Williams, we are completely focused on self-development. We are placed in an environment full of homework, extracurricular activites and social experiences – all of which exist for the purpose of finding ourselves and creating our futures. But where in our daily lives at Williams do we make time for others?  The unfortunate truth is that, for most of us, we rarely have the time to look outside of our own microcosm to help others who don’t have the opportunity to attend schools like Williams. And this, centrally, was the benefit of the Break Out trip. For one week, our primary goal was just to assist and learn from others in the Navajo community.

Why travel to somewhere so far away when there are opportunities to help in Williamstown? Most people on the Navajo reservation never leave, let alone go to college. We, as Williams students, are in a unique position to be able to provide insight into life as a college student – a future path that many, with support from individuals who care, will be able to choose.

More importantly, by teaching in such a diametrically different place, we are able to learn from the Navajo people and bring these lessons back to campus. In almost every way culturally, socially, economically, politically the Navajo Nation is far different from the Berkshire area and is often poorly represented and understood by those devoid of any first-hand experience. By traveling there and learning from the people who live there, we are able to experience greater immersion into this wonderful culture. It felt as though we were in an entirely different world, and it was clear we had much to learn about not just the Navajo culture but also the unique political and economic structure of the Navajo reservation. Our observations led to fascinating discussions, and our experiences provided us with insights we could not have gained within the context of Williams College. Stepping into Window Rock, it was clear that this was not Massachusetts or like any other place any of us had ever been. When we first arrived, the atmosphere was uncomfortable and scary. However, this feeling was completely reversed by the next day, and we were all reluctant to leave when the week was over. Emotions ran high at the airport on that final night, and every attendee would have happily spent the remainder of their Spring Break in Window Rock.

Additionally, the Navajo school system itself was quite different from what we experience at Williams. We were challenged to find a way to lead and assist with courses in the schools. Volunteering in the schools helped us understand the struggles and successes teachers often face, and we even gained a better understanding of our own academic interests via the processes of explanation and collaborative learning.

Importantly, we also made great friends and had a ton of fun. We got to bond with Williams students we never would have gotten to know otherwise – people across class years and interests. The many reunions have provided fun weekends and informative discourse about ways to continue learning back at Williams.

The Break Out trips serve as invaluable experiences for personal growth and service. We were able to endlessly learn from the residents of other cultures, gain critical teaching and volunteer experience and make many lasting friendships both at the volunteer site and on campus. We, although admittedly biased, cannot recommend these trips enough. In fact, we will now insert our shameless plug. The applications are due by Nov. 10, so be sure to apply!

Rachel Waldman ’17 is from Bethesda, Md. She lives in Mark Hopkins. Charley Wyser ’17 is from Anoka, Minn. He lives in Dodd.