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To serve, to learn On ‘immersion trips,’ students get involved in urban, rural cultures

Say the words “Spring Break,” and traditional college students think of sun-drenched beaches, late-night parties, and general “Girls Gone Wild” mayhem. But for the students who participated in University Ministries’ immersion trips, Spring Break was anything but traditional.

Belmont students traveled all over the country, to Georgia, New York City, D.C., West Virginia, San Francisco and New Orleans. As they served alongside local residents, they were exposed to Christian service around the world.

“Things you experience are going to change you,” said Micah Weedman, Belmont’s director of outreach. “You can’t come back and … think life is no different.”

The trips are each designed to combat a certain issue, from justice in San Francisco to rural ministry in West Virginia. “Sometimes [the need is] obvious,” Weedman said. “In places like Haiti and New Orleans, it’s apparent – relief. Obviously, there is a lot of work to do. But sometimes you have to be creative, think of new ideas.”

The students who participated say the trips gave them a lot to reflect on when they returned to Nashville.

“[It was a] haze from so much being thrown at us. I’m still dividing it out,” said freshman Morgan Higginbotham, who traveled to D.C. “It was all so profound … especially how God was present in the lives of the less fortunate. He’s so imminent, no matter what social classification.”

Weedman said it would take some time for Higginbotham and other students to fully process their experiences.

“It takes time. It’s when you are beginning to find your place in the world,” Weedman said. “It’s easy to come back and think it’s too big. That’s always a risk when you expose yourself to the gravity of the world. There may be that natural response to say, ‘I can’t do it.’”

Senior Scott Cangemi, who traveled to New York, agreed. “In a week, how do I expect to change a life?” he said. “Who is benefitting more? The people I’m going to meet? Or me?”

Though this is only the second year Belmont has offered immersion trips, University Ministries has already tripled the number of destinations available to students, and Weedman hopes to double that number again next year with six new destinations.

The trips are open to all students and cost $450. For Cangemi, it’s a small price for a powerful experience. He said the most rewarding part of the trip was “learning what it looks like to serve as a college student in that capacity. Not thinking you have to wait. It can start now.”

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