Almost Two-Thousand Miles From Home, Finding Common Ground on EMERGE Summer College Tour
Four rising Dekaney seniors are among a contingent of students on the EMERGE Summer College Tour visiting Boston University
During the EMERGE Fellowship summer college tour, students are encouraged on a daily basis to look within themselves and to clarify their own values, hopes, and aspirations. At the same time, students on the college tour are also asked to look beyond the surface when it comes to fellow students in the program.
During an exercise begun on the second night of the trip – and continuing through the week – students and their small-group leaders created Life Maps, covering some of the high points and challenges of their personal journeys.
The exercise offers students an intensely personal way to reflect on the major forces and events that have shaped their lives and made them who they are. In recounting their Life Map to their group members, students are encouraged to be honest and open, pushing themselves just outside their comfort zone, with the strict understanding that everyone involved in the exercise will respect the privacy of what’s shared. The results, as attested to by both students and group leaders, can be profound, with many students coming to new realizations both about themselves and their fellow students.
For rising Dekaney senior Yesenia Ruelas Reynaga, the exercise helped her see her own challenges in a new light.
“Hearing other people’s experiences, they were saying specific things that I could relate to. I didn’t think that people like this – that look so put-together, that look so involved in their communities, that do these great things – could struggle with the same things that I do,” Reynaga said.
EMERGE Program Manager Sherese Woolard, who is leading the Boston trip, said that seeing students open up and share can be one of the most profound parts of the summer college tours.
“It’s beautiful to me how sharing stories of struggle, sharing vulnerable spaces, opens the door to connection and to affirmation,” Woolard said. “They realize, ‘Oh, it’s okay – it’s okay that I’m scared. It’s okay that my parents want me to stay home. It’s okay that I’m homesick. You know, it’s okay.’”
And when students come to terms with their own struggles and vulnerabilities, it opens the way to new possibilities.
“To me, that is the most powerful part of the trip,” Woolard said, “having them feel affirmed in all the various emotions that come with leaving home for college, or branching out and doing something different that your family hasn’t ever experienced before, like being a first-generation college student, and knowing that you’re not alone.”
That sense of solidarity, Reynaga said, has the potential to be a powerful force for change and growth.
“Speaking today about my story,” she recounted, “someone came up to me afterwards from my group, and they were like, ‘That specific thing that you said really resonated with me, because I’ve gone through that specific thing, too, in my own way. And that was just eye-opening to me. I learned that we have more in common than we think.”