Allyson Noenickx ’19
“We’re all bumble bees.” I first heard these words as my sophomore year Spring Break Immersion Program (SBIP) group was gathered around the dinner table in Ivanhoe, VA, listening to one of our site coordinators, Mac, as she explained the miracles that are bumble bees. They say that it’s physically impossible for bees to fly with their disproportionately large torsos and tiny wings, but nevertheless they do. “According to calculations, Ivanhoe should have died,” said Mac. “She should have gone into the ground with the mine.” Yet, against all odds this once coal-mining town, too, continues to fly, unaware of its own handicap.
Whether Mac ripped off the beginning of “Bee Movie” or not, I think it’s true that at one moment or another during our Holy Cross careers we all feel this way––like some task, some lab, some paper is insurmountable, that no matter how hard we try, we’ll never make the grade, we’ll never find our home on campus––we are destined to fail. Especially freshman year, as you navigate new friendships and so many firsts, it can be hard to avoid this pitfall. But, looking back at my own first year on the Hill, I can’t help but pinpoint my own first SBIP trip as the major turning point in my Holy Cross career and one of the first moments in which I truly found my place on campus.
Each year nearly 300 students participate annually in SBIP trips to over two dozen locations across the country. Students can spend a week in an Appalachian town, L’Arche community, or a location-specific “special site.” These trips are entirely student-led and have been a Holy Cross tradition since 1976.
When I signed up to spend my first college spring break in Kentucky, I had no idea what I was getting into. Within hours of the deadline, I heard about the program in passing from a friend and sent in my application on a whim––knowing only that I wouldn’t find out where I’d be going for months.
SBIP comes at such a pivotal time in your freshman year as you have settled into your second semester, started to form a familiar group friends, and begun to feel more confident on campus. Now a month into college, the idea of starting over again with a group of ten strangers, of not returning home to familiarity during your first spring break, can seem daunting––and it is. But after three SBIP trips now, the first one coming during March of my own freshman year, I can assure you there is no better way to spend this week.
Unlike traditional service programs, SBIP places the emphasis on immersion, both within your own group and the community. You are living in the city or town that you visit, sharing meals with its residents, and simultaneously learning more about your group, this place, and even yourself.
It is this “appa love”––these bonds and relationships forged with your group and the community––that follows you back to campus. I have made some of my closests friends, especially those in other grades, through SBIP. As a freshman and sophomore going on immersion, it was these relationships with otherwise hard-to-meet upperclassman and these newfound role models that ultimately made the greatest impact on me upon returning to campus. It’s because of them that I kept going on immersion each year and eventually decided to apply to be a leader myself.
Not only does each SBIP site offer a new adventure, from sand dune sledding in Alamosa, Colorado to nightswimming on the border of Tennessee and Kentucky, but each also has an important lesson to share. Spend a week in Roanoke and I promise that Rev. Z and Dee Dee will not only predict what your future holds with incredible accuracy, but they will also show you how to have more fun and make you feel more welcomed in a church than you ever thought possible. Go to Kentucky and play basketball with some second graders; try Pricilla and Rodney’s white chocolate lasagna (even if you do decide to pass on the ham and cheese loaf). Go to Ivanhoe and volunteer for “Kitchen Patrol” with Phyllis and Danny, who will show you what love and community really look like; sit next to Mac at lunch and hear more about what she has to say about the bumble bees. No matter where you end up, L’Arche, Appa, or a special site, you’ll no doubt encounter a similar, memorable cast of characters that will leave you with lessons to live by over the next four years.
Regardless of what class year you are or if you’ve been on an immersion trip before, SBIP should be at the top of every Holy Cross student’s bucket list. If you’re a freshman, then there’s no better time to get started; and if you’re a senior, when else will you get the opportunity to spend such an impactful week with strangers, immersed in rural Appalachia or inner city Chicago? As sappy as it may sound, each and every immersion experience has truly shaped me and impacted me more than I could ever hoped to impact these communities. But, no trip has impacted me quite as much as that first freshman year experience––so much so that my friends and I who went on immersion our very first year still jokingly define our freshman selves as pre- and post-immersion.
In the words of Mac, take flight like a bumble bee. Don’t think about the reasons that might be holding you back or the ways in which you might fail, and trust that like Ivanhoe you will take flight and thrive regardless.
If you are interested in learning more about what SBIP has to offer, join us at the SBIP info session on Wednesday, Oct. 3 at 6:30 PM in Hogan 406.