Eight students at The University of Texas-Pan American got a first-hand learning experience on the issue of immigration from a New York metropolitan area perspective when they travelled to Ramapo College of New Jersey (RCNJ) May 11-17 to participate in the second leg of an Alternative Breaks program called SWAP (Students With a Purpose).
"It was an opportunity to learn more about immigration from a place we couldn't be farther from. It was great to find that there is still interest and care on the issue of illegal immigration so far removed from the border," said Ana Villaurrutia, a UTPA senior majoring in communication.
During this recent second leg of the project, the UTPA students travelled to RCNJ, located in Mahwah, N.J., 30 miles from New York City, where they explored the issues of undocumented immigration in the New York-New Jersey-Pennsylvania metropolitan area. The SWAP students' weeklong agenda included visits to a variety of immigrant support organizations and several service projects to enhance area services/facilities for immigrants.
Villaurrutia particularly enjoyed the visit to House on the Hill, a Head Start program for children of migrant farmworkers overseen by the New York state Department of Agriculture and Markets, where she got to work with, play and eat with the children.
"My mom works at a Head Start in Edinburg and I was surprised to see a program for migrants in New York but understood why it was so important there," she said.
"We were able to meet people, engage in conversations, and do volunteer work that was so varied yet still centered on the main topic of immigration. We learned amazing and valuable knowledge and met inspiring individuals throughout the entire trip," said Andrea Gail Charkow, a senior at UTPA studying nursing. " It was truly remarkable to hear personal stories and it made us realize that this is an issue regarding people who just want to make a better living for their family; isn't that what we are all trying to do."
The trip also included some exposure to some of the recreational and cultural activities unique to the area. SWAP participants were introduced to the sport of dragon boat racing on Lake Parsippany in Morris County, N.J. And, in their trip to New York City they saw the World Trade Center site, visited Ellis Island and experienced a subway train trip, the lights of Times Square and the cultural diversity of Chinatown and Greenwich Village. In Philadelphia's Village of Arts and Humanities, an inner-city arts and cultural haven focused on neighborhood revitalization, the students undertook a project to decorate one of the area's staircases with mosaic art.
"I was able to find my great-great-grandparents and all of my family who had immigrated to the states and I cannot explain how amazing that was," she said.
Annel Zamarrón, program coordinator in the Office of Student Life and Transition Services, accompanied the students on both legs of their SWAP experience. She said besides providing awareness of social issues affecting not only their communities but also distant ones, the program also builds leadership and citizenship skills and allows students a chance to network with those from different universities, particularly with those who share the common goal of making a difference in their community.
Participation in the SWAP Alternative Breaks program is open to all UTPA students who meet the following requirements - have a minimum 2.5 GPA, have no holds on their University record, and complete an application and an interview. Participating students may be charged a minimum amount to help cover some of the expenses but most costs are covered through student fees.
Charkow said she'd emphatically encourage any student to participate in the SWAP program.
"It is a great way to learn, help and contribute to making the world around us better," she said.
For more information, contact Zamarrón at 956/318-5375 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.