When I was a freshman at USD, I had the opportunity to be a part of an organization called AWOL (Alternative Week of Off-Campus Learning). This organization creates week long mission trips around the country that students can go on. I was able to go on a couple trips and worked my way up to help run the organization my 3rd and 4th year. The first trip I went on, however, was one of the defining trips of my life. It was on this trip that I was bit with the travel and culture bug, and I have been expanding my horizons ever since.
My first AWOL trip was to Birmingham, Al in January of 2012. This was after the horrendous tornadoes that tore through the area in 2011, taking away the livelihood of many residents in the city. Making the almost 30 hour van ride with 16 of my colleagues from USD, I was exposed to a completely different culture and way of living. Being from South Dakota, I hadn’t traveled much outside of the state. Going to the south was indeed a culture shock for me, but it provided me one of the best experiences I have had. We worked with Habitat for Humanity to build homes for people who lost theirs in the storms. Building houses was nothing too new for me as my grandfather is a carpenter (and still going at it at the young age of 82). So, I was glad that I could use some of the skills he taught me to help those in need.
While we were able to provide service in the form of handiwork via building houses, we also had the opportunity to meet with the people that we built the houses for. This was by and large my favorite part of this trip. Interacting with the local people and living in the same neighborhoods as them opened my eyes to the value of immersing myself in the places I’m in, not simply just being a tourist or a visitor. It’s important for me to become incorporated into the area as much as possible by getting to know the locals and the history of the people and place. Perhaps it is my studying and love of history that inspires me to want to do this, but I have come to learn that taking those steps before and while I am traveling help make each trip I take more meaningful.
I owe a lot of my desire to travel and experience cultures because of this trip and the people I met along the way. This was truly the beginning of a great adventure!