Ty and McKenzae’s immersion group made signs to greet incoming refugee families.

BY MCKENZAE BARTELSApril 20, 2012

John Carroll University students McKenzae Bartels and Ty McTigue share reflections from their spring break immersion trip to Louisville, Kentucky as well as their efforts to bring their experiences back to the campus community.

Written by: McKenzae Bartels, John Carroll University ’14

Thomas Merton writes, “This [Louisville, Kentucky] is the center of the universe.” Merton spent the later half of his life living in the Abbey of Gethsemani, a Trappist monastery about 40 minutes outside of Louisville, Kentucky. During an immersion trip to Louisville, Kentucky I was fortunate enough to experience a place where people across the globe come to the center of the universe seeking refuge. During the week we worked with refugees from Burma, Bhutan, Cuba, and Nepal.

I was blessed to meet my new friends Ivon and Alberto, refugees from Cuba. We spent four days at Catholic Charities ESL (English as a Second Language) classroom. Together, we conversed in a broken Spanish/English dialect, learning about one another. Ivon and Alberto were the first couple I sat down with. At first it was awkward, we could not say much or anything at all. Smiling was an extremely helpful tool. Ivon and Alberto met each other in Cuba, they lived about a block away. Together they have two children, a daughter Jusalita and a son (who is still in Cuba). Ivon was a hair-dresser in Cuba and Alberto was a “caminero” (truck driver). Ivon reflected on her time in Cuba for me.  She said that her and her family had no future in Cuba. It took her a month of work to save money to buy her son a single pair of shoes.  This was all she told me about their life in Cuba and it was all she needed to. By the end of the week we were friends. When we said goodbye they took me to the childcare room to meet their daughter before they left. As they were leaving Ivon ruffled through her purse pulling about several pieces of gum. She handed them to me, hugged me, told me to add her Facebook and left.

All of the people that my trip mates and I encountered were generous, kind, and happy souls despite what they may have gone through to get to Louisville. Each day we were in awe of how much the refugees wanted to give us when we knew they didn’t have much. Catholic Charities became the center of our universe, we could not wait to go each morning to see our new friends and we didn’t want to leave.

Written by: Ty McTigue, John Carroll University ’14

An immersion trip. The chance to completely immerse yourself in another culture and experience another world. The chance to learn and focus on social justice issues. The chance to change your life. The chance to come back to your campus and spread the knowledge and experiences you had. Then . . . you get back to campus, get back into the motions of class, activities, and sports, and all of that is forgotten. After recently going on a spring break immersion trip to Louisville, KY to work with refugees, my group took it upon ourselves to truly spread the knowledge and experiences we had. In a few weeks, our group will hold a Brown-Bag  series presentation here FSA and students will be invited to bring their lunch and hear our stories. We broke it down to talk about everything, including the background on the location, information about our host organization, what we learned, the personal stories and experiences we had, the social justice issues we encountered, and how this immersion trip fits into the JCU mission. Promotion is key, but as a business student I have learned that the best form of advertising is word-of-mouth. People engage in you when you speak, much more than when they simply read a poster. Imagine if after every experience you had, you were able to go out and talk to everyone about it, imagine if you were able to go out, and set the world on fire with your knowledge and experience.

McKenzae Bartels

McKenzae is a senior at John Carroll University, majoring in Theology and Religious studies with a minor in Mathematics on track for a masters degree in Non-profit Administration. She has been involved the Immersion program and JCU since Freshman year. McKenzae became involved with ISN in January 2012 at the University Leadership Summit where she developed an action plan to bring more Alta Gracia to JCU. This semester she will continue to bring awareness to staff and students about the need for Alta Gracia and fair trade on campus. McKenzae grew up in Twinsburg, Ohio.

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