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Lessons from the Road

Students on ASB Manhattan trip reflect on the experience


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In the video above, students from the Alternative Spring Breaks trip to Manhattan’s Gay Men’s Health Crisis share lessons learned.

Following up on our “Tweets from the Road” series, BU Today this week rolls out four stories on this year’s Alternative Spring Breaks — two each from New York City and Missouri. Today we continue in the Big Apple with the Gay Men’s Health Crisis. Tomorrow, on to Missouri.

To some, it may seem odd that college students who spend their days and nights working for grades would choose to spend their vacation working for nothing. But to students who have volunteered for an Alternative Spring Breaks trip, it’s not the least bit odd. And it’s definitely not working for nothing.

This year, more than 400 BU students traveled to 35 sites around the country, from Seattle and Texas to Puerto Rico and Maine — to spend their spring break helping people.

Fourteen chose to go to New York City to work at the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, a nonprofit organization that serves clients living with HIV and AIDS. Some were in it for the public health aspect of the trip. One hopes to launch her own nonprofit someday, and wanted to see how GMHC does what they do. Others wanted to learn more about HIV and AIDS. And some just love volunteering.

Regardless of the reason they came, each left personally transformed.

Students had several opportunities to reflect on their experiences. Elena Pliakas (ENG’12) and Ellen Reavey (ENG’11), the trip’s two student coordinators, led the group through these sessions.

After the first work day, volunteers gathered in a circle in Central Park to play Rose, Bud, Thorn — a game where players say what they liked, looked forward to, and didn’t like so far.

“I learned a lot,” said Kelsie Driscoll (CAS’13), offering up her rose. “I didn’t realize I was sort of ignorant about HIV.”

Others nodded agreement. They’d spent a good portion of orientation listening to people’s stories of living with HIV and AIDS. They learned that for most HIV-positive people, the disease is the least of their worries. Finding work, paying for rent and food, and securing legal services are often greater concerns. The nonprofit addresses those needs.

Days later, Reavey and Pliakas asked the group to think of one word to describe their experience. A pause filled the communal room in the Bronx refuge house where they were staying.

Then, slowly, students shared: introspection, empowering, rewarding, enlightening, overwhelming, hope.

Parissa Salimian (CAS’12) took the lessons to heart, reflecting on risky behavior and the importance of practicing safe sex. “I just hope I make the right decisions in the future,” she said.

Volunteering itself left an impression. Yvette Tsai (CAS’13) acknowledged that it’d been a while since she last gave time to a good cause. “After this week, I feel how most of the time I’m really selfish,” she said. “I love to hear and say thank you.”

Angel Rodriguez (CGS’11) was impressed by how much the group had brought him out of his shell; he describes himself as socially awkward.

“It’s pretty amazing that I get along with 13 other people in the same group,” said Rodriguez, churning laughter from his newfound friends.

Perhaps 13 other people were thinking the same thing.

Leslie Friday can be reached at lfriday@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter @lesliefriday.

Read about other spring break initiatives from around the country and from previous years here.


One Comment on Lessons from the Road

  • Anonymous on 03.24.2010 at 8:25 am

    Thank you Leslie~

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