New experiences with different cultures have the potential to change a person’s perspective. Just ask Josh Hilgenberg and Payge Smith.
Josh and Payge, both seniors this fall, were among a group of 17 ‘Berg students who traveled to the Texas-Mexico border June 17-24 for a weeklong service trip in a Mexican immigrant community. Service Learning on the U.S./Mexico Border allowed students to immerse themselves in a different culture.
While on the trip, the ‘Berg group volunteered for a summer children’s program through Project ARISE. Whether playing four square, a game of hoops in the hot, humid climate or doing crafts together, the innocence of the children and the warmth and kindness of the ARISE hosts impressed them the most.
“These are some of the warmest people I have ever met,” Josh said. “They were genuinely happy that I wanted to work with them, without knowing anything about me. This warmth overflowed into the children, as I could tell they were full of compassion.”
Josh decided to take the trip to explore his interest in privilege and race. That came to light when a group of older boys asked him to join in a game of basketball, which he loved. He quickly discovered that his new friends were in it for the fun, unfazed by the conditions.
“They forget about the sweat and the humidity and the dirt and focused on the fun,” he said. “Here, that’s not always the case. We complain and wish it was cooler, then go inside, blast our AC and do something else.”
It was that experience that awakened Josh’s awareness of “my privilege in every aspect of my life.”
The trip also raised awareness about the hot-button issue of immigration, and raised some emotion for Payge. “It’s easy to hear adults talk about things like immigration and racism and assume they are being political, but when children talk about these things, they don’t have any other motives. They truly are just talking about their life, and it’s so disheartening,” she said.
Despite her sadness, she genuinely enjoyed listening to the children’s stories. It reinforced her belief that “every story is important and deserves to be heard.”
Some of the students’ views changed about immigration after experiencing the border trip. “A few students who had gone into the experience primarily against immigration came out at the end more open-minded and empathetic toward others,” Josh said. “That was heart-warming, and it gave the experience purpose.”
Gaining new perspectives is huge, but it’s the gaining of new friends and memories that will stick with the students. “My favorite part of the trip was getting to know the kids,” Payge said. “I told them my name was Payge, which is pagina in Spanish, and then, through translation mix-ups, one of the boys called me Miss Paper all week. It was so cute.”
In addition to Payge and Josh, students participating in the trip included Jillian Goulet, Heather deJonge, Rafaela Mueller, Evelyn Gonzalez, Julie Hild, Allison Prayner, Katie Peck, Nic Gillenwater, Sam Yoder, Allison Farroni, Suzanne Brengartner, Vivian Brauer, Morgan Bingham, Kenna Pancake, Abdu El Fargani. Professors Cindy Lepeley and Ginny Gregg and alumni Courtney Arbogast, Andy Helms and Stephanie Krawek accompanied the group.