Immersion trips give names, faces to issues

During an immersion trip in April, a Loyola Marymount University student visits Friendship Park at the border in Tijuana, Mexico (Shannon O'Brien)

Life is about the stories we hear and the stories we tell. Time and time again, I come back to this truth. I have sat here, for hours now, reflecting on an article by The Onion, a publication with articles I usually love. But one I read in January struck close to home. "6-Day Visit to Rural African Village Completely Changes Woman's Facebook Profile Picture," the title read. The premise was straightforward: As college and university students nationwide either return from winter break immersion trips or prepare to depart for spring break ones, why not lampoon an easy target — immersion trips?

A number of friends who know I run the very trips being parodied in the article asked for my thoughts. And I've struggled to weigh in on this very real issue, until now. When people like me fail in our work, the account from The Onion becomes reality. Students spend one to two weeks in a marginalized community. They speak about the "impact" they were able to have, and they return home with nothing more than a photo with a kid whose name they don't even know, and a story about the time they went to Latin America or wherever and helped people.

The truth is uncomfortable. The truth is this: Between church groups and school groups, this reality plays itself out more than I care to admit. So why plan trips like these?

This story appeared in the Nov 7-20, 2014 print issue under the headline: Immersion trips give names, faces to issues .

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