By Matthew Dempsey
Getting ready to leave Central America after a week of service with the Association of Fraternal Leadership & Values (AFLV), I felt accomplished, yet saddened to see all my new friends go back to their own homes and communities. Fellow participants that I had only known for the past week or so, felt like they were closer to me than some of the friends that I had back at home. Some of the people I met in El Salvador were so authentic and enlightening, that I could feel nothing but satisfaction to know that because of the work of a handful of Greek students, we forever made a difference in their life.
Going on an immersion trip allows you to see another culture in its entirety and compare it to the culture of your own. For a quick example: as a person from the United States, I often called myself an American, and was shocked when a woman from El Salvador also said, “Soy Americana, tambien” translating to, “I’m American, too.” While something we do not think about, the term American can describe anybody from North America, Central America to South America. While this is a small vernacular difference, it made a difference when I told the woman that we were both Americans and acknowledged the flaw in what I had said.
We all have customs that we are comfortable with and deviating from those customs if often difficult or awkward for us. Most of us have friends and family that we are comfortable, and going on an immersion trip truly questions all aspects of our life. After participating in this trip, I can confidently say that I can more easily question the status quo. It helped me think about how I talked with my peers and how I was speaking with people I did not even know. I recognized and learned about the culture I was visiting as well as my own culture. I felt comfortable and encouraged to be myself in a group of peers whether I was being the chirpy morning person, contemplating and reflecting about my day or if I was sick after accidently drinking the water.
Through the amazing and positive times in Central America, I worked with my peers to make a difference in the lives of many. The close-knit feeling of our volunteer community came quicker than anybody could have expected. I shared some of the most personal aspects of my life with the group that I would typically never share with people after four days of knowing them. The connectedness has continued since the end of the trip, as I have been able to call many of the fellow participants to ask them with help in making decisions through my life and they have been able to do the same for me. After the trip, I found myself in an extended layover in Chicago, and asked a fellow participant if she had a place for me to stay and she opened her doors to me without reservation.
Going on an immersion trip was one of the most eye-opening and amazing experiences I could have asked for. It has allowed me to be a better member of my family, brother in my fraternity, friend and student. It has given me comfort to know that there are individuals spread across the United States that I know I could call for help without hesitation. It has motivated me to challenge the status quo and dream of the impossible.
#WHATIF you could help change the world?
#WHATIF you had friends across the country who you knew would always be there for you?
#WHATIF you dreamed the impossible?
Learn about Phi Delta Theta’s Service Immersion Trip to Honduras this Spring.
Matthew Dempsey is a senior education major at the University of Connecticut and a currently serves as the president of his chapter of Beta Theta Pi Fraternity. He is also a member of the Residence Life Staff at the University of Connecticut. Matthew participated in the AFLV Immersion Trip to El Salvador in January 2011.