Students Experience Alternative Intercultural Service Break

For the first time at NC State, students had the opportunity to take part in an alternative spring break trip that focused on intercultural experiences.

Alternative Intercultural Service Break (AISB) was started in 2018 to serve both international and domestic students who would be without residence hall housing during the spring break period.

Compared to the traditional alternative spring break program, AISB explores the local culture and community and incorporates opportunities for intercultural activities for students throughout the trip.

Headed by three staff members from the Office of International Services, the trip served 27 international and domestic students who stayed together at the Blue Ridge YMCA in Black Mountain, North Carolina.

During the week-long trip, students volunteered with various service organizations in the area, including shelters for women and children, a crisis ministry, and a homeless veterans’ program. AISB participants also visited a local elementary school to give a presentation to fourth and fifth graders about diversity.

The Office of International Services intends for this program to be an annual trip to bring together international and domestic students in a cross-cultural service experience.

“It was truly an amazing experience to watch our students engage with the local and community culture throughout the trip. Our students were able to experience direct service opportunities and interact with local elementary school students while learning about the cultures of Black Mountain and exploring Asheville,” said Nehemiah Chung, an international programs coordinator who led a group of students during the trip. “I encourage any student to apply for this program for next spring semester.”

You can view three students’ personal experiences on the trip through their blog entries below.

Day 1
Today, our group went to the Steadfast House for Women and Children for our first service activity. We learned a bit first about the home and how it provides transitional housing to female veterans, single moms, and other women who need housing due to certain circumstances. When we arrived at the site, we split into two groups with one group building an awning for a pavilion for the house and others building garden beds from scratch in the backyard. A lot of the work was construction-based, but we all worked as a team to build the beds and the awning. We also made a taco lunch for the residents, and it was really nice to serve it to them and hear their gratitude and compliments. After we were done with the taco lunch and we completed the awning and the beds, it felt good to look back at it all and feel like our contributions and efforts were worthwhile. It was an enlightening experience and it reminded us that every effort counts towards making someone’s life easier!

Day 2
Today, for our service we went to Black Mountain Elementary School. We had to prepare some activities and a presentation for the children that were international focused to educate the children about other countries. We broke into multiple groups, and I was with Emma, KT, Sriya, and Rosetta. We made a cool presentation with some neat facts about our country, and then we made a Kahoot to quiz the kids and make it like a game. The kids were very responsive! They asked lots of questions, and were curious to learn more! I was initially nervous at first because kids can be brutally honest. However, the kids were friendly so everything went well! I feel like it was a great service day, as we got to teach some of the US’s younger generation about our countries!

Day 3
For our third service day, our group split again, and I was with the half that went to the Black Mountain Home for Children. The home serves over 40 children and takes in kids from the foster care system or kids who were in abusive homes and gives them a chance to grow up in a safe environment and pursue a higher education. It was nice to look at the facility and see that the kids get a gym, playground, and their own spaces. It shows that the facility and staff give it their all to make sure the kids have as normal of a childhood as they can! We painted the inside of a house for a new staff member, and others cleaned the gym. Afterward, we actually joined the other groups at Asheville Greenworks, to pick up trash in the city. It felt good that every little piece we picked up contributed to making the city cleaner. Even more interesting is that one of the coordinators for Asheville Greenworks gave me and Sriya since we’re both in environmental majors, a future opportunity to come back to the area and give a talk on environmental careers. I am very excited about this connection we’ve made and that we can come back and continue to make an impact in the community!

Day 4
For our last day of service, we went to the crisis center. We learned how at the center, they offer career counseling, shelter, free food, and even free groceries to those in the community who are in need. I liked that they offered services that not just helped people temporarily, but actually helped people get out of bad situations in general. We prepared grocery orders, unpacked food trucks, pre-packed food, and served food during that day’s lunch service. We even sorted through the clothes in their clothing section. We did a lot of tasks, and it was cool to hear people say thank you when we served them. Everyone was friendly and we did a lot today! In the evening, we got to do some fun stuff: half the group went to see a Bluegrass performance in Marshall, and the other half went to see Black Panther at the movies. I went to see the movie, even though I’ve already seen it once. However, it was definitely better the second time! It was fun to discuss the movie afterward, and how impactful positive black representation can have on African Americans. Now, those of us who went to the movie have inside jokes, and we’re always shaking our shoulders just like they did in the movie!

Day 5
Today, we had our cultural time at the Folk Art Center and got to go to downtown Asheville to explore. At the Folk Art Center, we learned a bit about the arts and crafts the mountain locals did when they first got to the Blue Ridge and the Appalachian Mountains. We even learned about Native American art, which was awesome! We then got to make our own baskets with yarn! We learned that the Folk Art Center was the headquarters for the Southern Highland Craft Guild, and we learned how to make traditional baskets by weaving yarn in between reed-like wheels. I finished mine, and it makes a really pretty memento of our time at the Folk art center! In downtown Asheville, we ate at different restaurants and did different activities. I ate lobster benedict at a Louisiana style restaurant called Mayfel’s, and we went to the Grove Arcade, which was a really pretty shopping center! Overall, it was a fun day and I enjoyed it immensely!

Day 1
Hola from our group! Today was our first day of service, and our group had the pleasure of volunteering at the Crisis Ministry. They offer several services to patrons such as food pantry, clothing drives, warm meals and financial assistance. At the ministry, we were kept very busy which allowed us to rotate stations. Our group made over a total of 100 sandwiches, created food boxes, sorted and stocked several food items and helped out at the front desk. This was definitely an eye-opening experience. Our group was very grateful for this opportunity, and it made us realize how lucky we are and how influential we can be in our communities. Tomorrow we’ll be visiting an elementary school, which we are both nervous and excited for whatever awaits our beloved group.

Day 2
Oi! After a busy and eventful first day, we rose early to prepare for our trip to Black Mountain Elementary school. In smaller groups, we were divided to present our cultures to 5th and 4th graders. The kids were full of joy and eagerness once our group began speaking in our native tongues. They brought smiles to our faces as we did to them. Our groups presented famous holidays, songs, movie clips and samples of languages. We appreciate the teachers allowing us to interact with the children, and we were more than happy to educate the future of America. Our brilliant group will adventure to the Black Mountain home for children tomorrow!

Day 3
Halo! Our AISB is about halfway over. We’ve grown a lot as team, and today we proved that. During the first half of the day, our lovely group visited the Black Mountain Home for Children along with another group. As a team, we painted a cottage where more staff at the home for children can live in order to benefit the children. Others stayed at the main building and cleaned the children’s facilities, such as a music room, weight room, and meeting room. We learned that these children are supported throughout their education, even after high school if they wish to continue their education they are more than welcome at the home. While we didn’t interact with the children, we all felt a sense of joy when we saw our finished product, such as painted walls and clean hallways. The second half of the day consisted of all three groups working together with Asheville Greenworks to clean the streets from litter. We will be working with Asheville Greenworks again tomorrow.

Day 4
Nǐ hǎo! Today was an eventful day for our group. We were joined by the AISB trip to volunteer at Asheville Greenworks while being filmed for ABC news! We learned about Asheville’s overwhelming littering problem and especially the issues with needle use. While we couldn’t pick up used needles on the road, we were able to collect all the other trash on a back road known as the trash wall. We found several interesting items such as an old TV, several tires and countless bottles and trash bags. As a group, we learned how we can impact the environment negatively and be more aware of our landfill. After our last day of service, we split up to either go watch Black Panther or a bluegrass performance in Marshall. Our entire group enjoyed our service part of the trip and look forward to continuing our service after this trip.

Day 5
Hello from Asheville! Today our AISB group visited the city of hipsters and barbeque. Before stopping in downtown Asheville, we visited the craft center where we learned to weave and enjoy more culture from Western N.C. We explored several types of boutiques, restaurants, and specialty stores. We all had unique and memorable experiences while in downtown Asheville. There is no one I would have rather spent my first time there with than this group of AISB students. A group of us met up after lunch and took a walk in this glorious city and encountered a cafe inside a bus – Coffee Bus! We saw several street performers, inhaled all the lovely aromas from bakeries nearby and visited a small mall filled with plants. Others spent their time at record shops, UNC Asheville and attended a baseball game! We couldn’t have had a better ending to our last days at Black Mountain. We also were able to send off our accompanying AISB memories with one last bonding experience, s’mores over a bonfire. We danced the night away after consuming several pounds of chocolate and marshmallows. While this isn’t our last day together, our group will be missed. We all made several friends and lasting memories. All we can hope for is the continuation of these loving connections.

A Poem:

The mountains are blue;
not blue like the bluest oceans,
but blue like a dead maiden’s lips.
The mountains aren’t alive.
They have never been.
But to call them dead
would also be wrong
since dead is the adjective of mortals.
The mountains are blue,
like everstanding mausoleums of time.

The trees are grey,
as grey as the powdery residue of matter
that is dead and can never die.

The clouds are green
like chrysoprase whitewashed in the light;
Ethereal veils
ripped apart into the Elysian realm of the sun.

And when it snows in the mountains
the air is perfectly white,
like a thousand fluorescent lights.

We are gathered around the round dining table shouting out suggestions to Débora who is writing our team’s code of conduct on a 2.5’x2.0’ sheet of paper in gigantic letters. At the moment, we are discussing code number 7. Elaine thinks we should try to get out of our comfort zones. Lauren, also known as the team advisor, is looking to us for the best way to phrase that idea. “Don’t just do what is comfortable,” says Ryan. “Be uncomfortable!” I blurt. Everyone laughs. “Try different things” is eventually scribed and the “reflection” comes to a wrap. But I, having followed an impulse one Saturday morning and signed up for an alternative service break to Black Mountain, North Carolina, feel as though I have already broken the zone.

My best friend, Kaji, seemed not to approve of a spring break that sounded so much like work and telling her in my excitement that I had volunteered to be trip blogger did not seem to improve the situation. “But Kaji, this is what I need in my life now!” I announced to her one night as the notorious trip closed in on us. And as I said it I believed it to be true, even if it was hard to put into words at the time. But we were on our fifth consecutive night at the College of Design’s Architecture studio, the review marathon was far advanced, and at that point the thought of going on any trip at all was exhausting to us. So we both left it at that.

I thought about my motives again when I woke up this morning to find my yet-to-be-packed bag on the floor, staring at me with its wide-open mouth like a vicious animal in the twilight. I needed to reach out, to try and make an impact, but I had been idle for far too long. Was this really the right time? But change does not really happen at a right time. To even for the possibility of it to exist you need to start any time.

And as we drove up through the mountains, stretching across the horizon infinitely, I thought of the transience of our time and surrendered myself to what was to come.

_________

I spent a good deal of yesterday limping around sheepishly debating whether I should share this story. But there are stories that leave too large a print on your mind to stay hidden. The story of an injury is often one. Friday evening, in the dark side of the bonfire, on the edge of the chaotic dance of gleeful shadows my foot gave way under me and my mind went cold with the shattering pain of a sprained ankle. Several minutes passed in looking around with a lost gaze. No one had seen the fall, and I was determined no one should. But several more minutes went by as I slowly recognized a need for help. There are faces you converse with,  faces you laugh with, and then there are faces you trust with your pains. That night, Débora’s firelit face was the one that jumped to my aid and Rosetta’s small frame was the one that carried my weight. Back at the lodge as Débora taped an ice bag to the swollen ankle, we discovered a tear in my pants with a streak of scraped skin underneath and we both shared a moment laughing out loud at the absurdity of the situation. Later on at night, KT and Thomas moved the couch with everything on it including yours truly just so that I could play a game with them. This afternoon, Eason, who has been trained to treat basketball injuries, compressed my foot with tape and kitchen wipes like a pro and as he was wrapping the tape in x-shaped loops around my ankle I thought that now we have seen each other’s wounds and something in the earnestness of that sentence made me cry inside a little.

It is the last supper and the very faces who, seven days ago, stared at a camera collectedly, politely wishing they will grow to like one another. Today they are connected in friendships that are often achieved over years. There is an Iranian expression that says “if you want someone to reveal their true selves to you embark on a trip with them.” And I have only grown to believe more and more in the legitimacy of that advice. I have gotten to know individuals that I would have never met in the daily course of my life and that can only be a good thing.

At 1:59 am Yasmin, Rosetta, Shubesh, Jaeleen, Princess, Timothy and I are seven glowing faces staring at the melting digits on a phone screen counting down the moments to the apocalypse of time, our time. It is daylight savings time and in another 10 seconds, as one turns into three, we are witness to a never-seen-before leap of time. Now we have seen it all. Now perhaps each of us will be a little less lonely carrying the weight of the world and that can only be a good thing.

Tomorrow I will resume the rite of life, but this trip reminded me how much the ultimate happiness of our species relies on the bonds we create with one another. I have been touched and relearned how to touch others, and that can only be a good thing.

Learn more about the Office of International Services’ programs and support international student scholarships by making a donation of any amount.