VERMILLION, S.D. -- Sixteen USD students and two staff members from The U’s Center for Academic Engagement participated in an international Alternative Week of Off-campus Learning (AWOL) trip to Agua Prieta, Mexico during Winter Break.
The team of students prepared with extensive discussion and evaluation of immigration issues prior to the trip, which began Jan. 2 and was completed on Jan. 11. While in Agua Prieta, the group – serving with Rancho Feliz Charitable Foundation’s Exchange Program – spent time with locals, working on Rancho Feliz’s projects in the border community. Many of the participants were surprised by the living conditions.
"The biggest shock was seeing the extreme difference of living conditions just by crossing a border," said Kevin Cwach, a USD sophomore from Yankton, S.D. "Dealing outside my bounds was an invigorating, once-in-a-lifetime experience which I would not trade for anything, as the trip truly was a cultural, mental and spiritual epiphany."
Participants poured cement for a new one-room house. They also interacted with abused and neglected children at an orphanage, played soccer with special needs children, and toured businesses and cities.
"Going to the school and interacting with the students was great and inspiring," said junior Shane Bryan from Chamberlain, S.D. "Finishing the house was a great feeling that I will never forget. Playing soccer with the special needs kids was such a blast. The drive was also great because it allowed for me to get to know many people I had never met before."
The trip to Mexico was AWOL’s sixth at USD and the program's first international trip. During spring break, four groups of students will engage in service-learning opportunities in San Francisco, Calif., Staten Island, N.Y., Eagle Butte, S.D., and East St. Louis, Ill.
The trip was funded in part by a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service and the Center for Academic Engagement at USD. For more information on the AWOL Program, please visit: www.usd.edu/engage/alternative-breaks.
In addition to Bryan and Cwach, other members of the USD AWOL trip included Lindsey Baker of Hartford, S.D.; Donielle Gustafson, Pierre, S.D.; Shuree Hohn from Watertown, S.D.; Sarah Olson of Brandon, S.D.; Jessica Quissell of Garretson, S.D.; Sandra Reyes from South Sioux City, Neb.; Michelle Rydell, Vermillion; Monique Ellefson, Kyle Fonder and Adam Ladwig of Sioux Falls, S.D.; Corrie Hendricks, Rachel Miller, Kaiti Strayer and Kandace Taylor of Sioux City, Iowa; Tina Shantz, AmeriCorps VISTA member, and Jacquie Lonning, Coordinator of Academic Engagement.