Every week, members and partners of the Michigan Active Citizens Alternative Spring Break (MAC-ASB) community will share their stories through our blog, which is a series of narratives inspired by the experiences, memories, and meanings made and shared through ASB trips. This week, we bring an experience from Nikole Koszarycz, a senior on Public Relations (MAC-ASB’s Leadership Team), majoring in Nursing.
As a sentimental senior, I have begun to reminisce about the most transformational parts of my college experience. MAC-ASB (formerly, Alternative Spring Break) is definitely at the forefront and will continue to shape an integral part of who I am after I graduate.
I have had three incredible ASB experiences. As a participant on a Youth and Education trip, my freshman year, I first encountered how MAC-ASB changes perspectives by engaging with community partners and working to understand social issues in a respectful and tangible way. My notion of traditional volunteering was challenged, and my trip sparked my interest for learning about different social issues as well as how communities empower themselves and work to eliminate them. I also realized the necessity and impact of a good reflection, one where all participants respect others’ point of view (without necessarily agreeing with it), but also feel comfortable enough to challenge it. Why do we think a certain way? Why do others think a certain way? There’s no right or wrong answer, but it helps one understand how society has come to be, and how it tends to affect certain communities.
With this desire to learn more and do more, I decided that I wanted a different role in MAC-ASB by becoming a site leader my sophomore year. Leading my first trip was anxiety-provoking for me in the beginning, but being able to challenge my participants, and to learn more about social justice and leadership through site leader training was immensely gratifying. We visited Samaritan House, an HIV/AIDS trip, and we worked with an organization that provides housing and other services for individuals who are chronically homeless and diagnosed with HIV. Being able to interact with the residents and to listen to their stories provided me a unique perspective, and again, made me look introspectively and challenge my own beliefs. I also saw how much intersectionality there is in social justice issues: one issue is not unique to another, but rather, there is a cycle of different issues that potentially interacts with and affects one individual.
Last year, I led my last trip as a site leader to Ndakinna Education Center, a Native American Justice trip. Throughout the year, we learned about Native American Justice, and again reinforced the intersectionality of this “one” topic. We also learned how much history truly has an impact on individuals today. At Ndakinna, we listened to traditional stories and learned about the history and culture of certain indigenous groups in that region. We also learned different outdoor skills and about how Native peoples used nature as an important tool for everyday life. One topic of Iroquois history that we learned still sticks with me today, and that is the story of the formation of the Iroquois nation. The Iroquois nation is actually comprised of six nations: the Mohawk, the Onondaga, the Oneida, the Cayuga, the Seneca, and later, the Tuscarora. These nations were actually in war, until a Peacemaker showed each group that one arrow alone breaks very easily. But, a bundle of five arrows cannot be broken.
Using this as a metaphor, teamwork and understanding definitely prevail when working toward social change. Although it happens gradually, participating in MAC-ASB trips fuels a fire in many people: a fire to help make change, to engage with communities already making change, and to understand why change needs to be made in the first place. We all have the potential to educate others and ourselves about issues that matter, as well as challenge our own beliefs in order to make society more inclusive and supportive of individuals impacted by different issues. Although a change in oneself seems small and insignificant, a change in several people improves society, works on the side of equality, and even has the potential to make steps toward structural improvements and transformational policies.
So, although my membership in MAC-ASB has lasted for only four years of my life, my participation in social justice work will endure past my university years, and will continue to affect me and how I interact with others. It will impact my choices and decisions, and will keep on pushing me toward social change and understanding. MAC-ASB not only gave me indescribable experiences, but also will forever encourage me to learn, to challenge myself, to pursue social change, and to be an active citizen.