Campus Life

Alternative Fall Break 2019: Students Share Their Experience

*Note: Content in this blog post originally appeared on the Dean of Student's Facebook page. This post features first-hand accounts of students' experience during this year's Alternative Fall Break trip to learn and volunteer for Friends of Refugees in Clarkston, Ga. Each project focuses on refugee life in Georgia. Some content has been edited for clarity and length.

Friday, Oct. 4

When I hopped on the van for Clarkston, Ga. at nearly 7 a.m., I had no idea where I was going, but regardless of it I knew better things were to come. There were 12 of us and one van, along with lots of luggage! We got super close super fast! Once in Clarkston, we met Susan. Susan was passionate about teaching and informing about the truth regarding refugees.

I learned during this orientation about refugee settlement and the process a refugee must go through in order to become settled in the United States. After learning about refugees, we experienced a loss simulation. She gave us cards where we wrote the things that were most important to us, and essentially lost everything in the simulation. This moment was very tough and many of us were in tears. We couldn’t fathom the idea of losing those closest to us.

After all this, we ate together and then did a service project. For the project, we played with refugee children and were their friend for the day. This day, new friendships were created between students and the refugee community.

- Roxanna Lopez, a junior chemistry major at Dalton State

 Yesterday we visited Friends of Refugees. While we were learning about what the process of becoming a refugee is like, we were asked to do an activity. I expected something like an icebreaker but wasn’t expecting most of us to feel sad or begin to cry.

What Susan, the director, had us do is called a loss simulation. Essentially, you write down things that are most important to you in your life— people, material things. Then you write down some of your roles as a person— daughter, student, etc. Then in the matter of 30 seconds, you have to decide which of those things you would have to give up or lose. It affected us all to have to decide between living without your mom or your dad. Some of us had to decide if they wanted to throw their brother away forever or keep him. Even though this was only a “game,” it left a lot of us in tears and shaken at the feeling of losing someone and something so abruptly.

This is what life is like for so many refugees. They lose so much in order to try and make a better life. Although I was very heartbroken during the loss simulation, I am so glad we did it because it made me realize how blessed I truly am.

- Alma Pulido, a sophomore social work major at Dalton State

Saturday, Oct. 5

Like yesterday and the rest of this trip, my group and I woke up not knowing what we were going to be doing today. I’ll be honest, it is very nerve-racking not knowing what you will be doing on a day-to-day basis, but that is the goal of this trip.

The goal is to simulate the life of a refugee as much as possible. I had the privilege to go to a refugee owned and created business today, Refugee Coffee Co. Once we arrived, Susan, being the extremely nice person that she is, bought each one of us coffee! Afterwards we separated into two groups and later switched to experienced both activities.

In group one, we were given a journal to write and reflect on our perception and any knowledge we gained from the previous day about refugees, their lives, and difficult life changing decisions they have to make with little to no time. The information Susan told us about refugees heavily impacted each one of us. In group two, we were able to make chai tea! I had never made chai tea before, and it was a great experience! We even tried a chai latte (many of us never tried it before). We were instructed by Leon, a refugee, who told us a lot of history regarding chai tea.

Overall, it was a fun and entertaining experience! After lunch, we headed over to Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church where we all had various types of tasks to help around the church. After our service opportunities, we decided to attend a festival nearby called Taste of Tucker. We tried many foods from around the city and enjoyed the live music. I'm glad I attended this trip with Dalton State, and this will definitely not be my last.

- Ana Karen Valdez, a freshman psychology major at Dalton State

Sunday, Oct. 6

Today our group went to The King Center, a museum that highlights the life, death and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. This man was assassinated for standing up and fighting for righteousness, justice and ultimately, love.

We listened to one of his sermons where Dr. King gave the world a strange request. He asked us not to remember him by the awards he had won or the school he attended. Rather, he wanted to be remembered by the people he impacted—how he did his best to clothe the naked, to visit those in prison and to fight against the moral rot of segregation in our society.

As I reflect on his life, I see how I’ve wanted to be known by my awards or my talents. In the end, none of this will matter. As Dr. King said, having many possessions will be of no use in the end. We will not be able to take it with us. Just as many people have been impacted by Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, I am challenged to give my life for the sake of justice, righteousness and love.

Perhaps it won’t result in my death, but for now, may this result in yet another life lived for the sake of those overlooked, outcast, and abandoned.

Check out this video of Christian playing piano at The King Center

- Christian Neal, a freshman communication major at Dalton State

My reflection was of our trips to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park and the Atlanta Historic Center. I have always admired  Martin Luther King Jr. and what he did to change history. Our group had the opportunity to tour the museum and his birthplace. Looking at the pictures and videos made me emotional. I understood why he did what he believed in. He wanted basic rights for all people. He wanted everyone to understand that his people were just as an American as everyone else. I have immense respect for his nonviolent protests. No matter how violent the other side was, Dr. King always maintained patience. He was never aggressive, he never lost hope, and most importantly, he never lost his motivation to keep trying. He gave a voice to the vulnerable. That is why he is so important. Getting to see this in person and walking in his footsteps was just breathtaking.

I took his story very personally. It really hit home. He has motivated me to become a voice of my people and stand up for what I believe in.

Dr. King once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” This quote explains that we cannot have change when people do not have a voice. I want to start up a project that helps DACA students have a voice to tell their stories in a state like Georgia. I know that they are afraid to speak for a change because they know so many people who oppose undocumented students. I am starting up a project that will try to break all those stereotypes. I want to show people that they are as much as an American as their peers and everyone else. I know this is a sensitive matter but we must speak about it. I am motivated to try to start a project that shines light on such a sensitive matter.

Having the opportunity to see what Martin Luther King Jr. went through has been a great motive to become a voice for my people and for what I believe in, even if people will try to bring me down. This trip has been very emotional and personal. I am so glad that I made the decision to come on this trip that had an in-depth experience of other ethnic backgrounds and to be able to learn new things.

- Ana Rodriguez, a freshman biology major at Dalton State

Going to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park and The King Center today was surreal because it was such an immersive experience in our civil rights history and what had to be endured and fought for in order to get to where we are today as a nation.

 It reminded me how grateful I am to not have to live in a country where I have to eat and drink and sit in segregated places solely based on the color of my skin.

Although racism and prejudice still prevail, I am so proud and awed by the equality Dr. King laid the foundation for and even more inspired to create equality myself.

- Araceli Acosta Rodriguez, a junior communication major at Dalton State

Final Thoughts

This is my second year volunteering for the Alternative Fall Break. 

 I have had a great experience these past three days from interacting with kids with extreme amounts of energy, to learning about the harsh past that refugees go through before coming to the United States. I was also able to do this with other 12 amazing students that volunteered for Friends of Refugees.

I STRONGLY encourage all Roadrunners to volunteer in the upcoming trips!

- Cerbando Trejo, a junior management major at Dalton State

My first Alternative Break trip was last spring to California, and I immediately fell in love with being hands-on and making a difference. I learned more and more about being a volunteer and becoming more involved at Dalton State, so I met with Heather a lot and became a SAVE Alternative Break Site Leader.

Choosing Clarkston and working with Friends of Refugees was a top location of mine because I had heard that it’s a very diverse place and is always a learning experience. This was the exact truth. Going into this as a leader was SO stressful because we had no idea what we were doing or what time we were supposed to be anywhere. They gave us an address and we went. 

We had no idea what it was going to consist of. We were told to wear clothes that covered our shoulders and knees, as well as socks. As we drove to the location, we figured out we were going to a Swaminarayan Mandir, aka a Hindu temple. It was SO beautiful. We attended a puja ceremony, and it was very different! There was no talking and it was silent. Women had to sit in the back and men in the front.

Being a Christian, I knew I needed to open my heart and mind to new knowledge. Overall, it was a great experience to learn about Hindu culture and beliefs and the differences in world religions. The next thing we did was a farmers market scavenger hunt! Eduardo and I were two peas in a pod looking for the Libyan flag! Looking for different groceries was very interesting because everything was fresh and very organic compared to what we have at home.

Once our teams tied, we headed over to Willow Branch Apartments to play with our kiddos we had met before. One girl I had helped with homework previously knew exactly who I was and ran right up to me and hugged me! Her name was Aleena. She was 11 years old and knew how to get answers out of people! So sneaky!

My inner teacher was so determined to show her that she could do her work independently and that she was a smart student! Keeping her sitting down and focused, she finished three pages of math homework and said she never finishes her work that fast because no one is there to help her. To me, this was most impactful because I want to be an elementary school teacher.

Meeting these kids and listening to their stories about how they got to America was such a cool perspective that everyone should have daily. I’m so thankful that I can live in a country where we have so much ability, freedom, and love.

- Becky Clinton, an elementary education major at Dalton State

Last fall, I had the opportunity to go on the Alternative Fall Break trip, so when I was presented with the opportunity once again, I knew I wanted to take it.

Going into the trip, I did not have a clear understanding of who refugees were. During our orientation, our trip guide, Susan, explained who refugees were and how they obtained their refugee status. The more educational experiences and service opportunities we had, the greater understanding of a refugee I obtained.

I was touched by the stories told by the children and the adults that we met. Their resilience was inspiring, and the way they walked with humility and grace was beautiful. Although faced with unimaginable adversity, they are still human. Just like you. Just like me.

This trip has been a wonderful learning experience. I’ve met some amazing people and bonded with my new friends while on this trip. I feel I have gained a new family within the larger family of Dalton State. Although this trip has come to an end, I am excited to bring back the knowledge and growth I have gained and help cultivate that into life at home. The one thing I might not miss is our nightly war over the room temperature with the boys...68 degrees is simply too cold!

As we head back to Dalton, I am reminded of this question: What is the best way to reduce prejudice? As Professor Powers says, “The best way to reduce prejudice is frequent, positive interactions with people who are different from us.” So I leave you with one question: When was the last time you allowed yourself to step out of your comfort zone and interact with people who are different than you?

- Ruth, a junior social work major at Dalton State


posted 10/24/2019 in Roadrunner Nation



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