by Christina Phang

Now that my senior year is beginning to wind down, so too is my time with the W&M Students for Belize Education alternative break trip. With only a little time left here, I’ve started to reflect on the great experiences I’ve had with my team and Branch Out International(BOI).

When I first found out I was accepted onto the team my freshman year, I was incredibly excited. I knew I wanted to be on a trip with an educational focus, and this team was the perfect fit. When I arrived at my first team meeting though, I realized how very little I knew about the social injustices in Belize. Like many of my peers here at William & Mary, I spent much of my time in high school involved in extracurriculars like sports, and some of my time volunteering at soup kitchens and non-profits like Habitat for Humanity. Joining this team and BOI though, was the first real exposure I got to working hand in hand with a community in tangible need of help.

Active Citizen Continuum
On my first trip to Belize, I was utterly appalled by the injustices going on in the community we stay at. Guided by my amazing trip leaders though, I was encouraged to question why they were happening, and more importantly, how my teammates and I could help. While I didn’t realize it at the time, during that trip I was transitioning through The Active Citizen Continuum and moving forward on my journey towards becoming an active citizen (diagram shown below).

For those who may be unfamiliar with the continuum, it was developed by Break Away and visually represents the transition that occurs when someone progresses through community involvement to become an active citizen.

Through my time with BOI, I have become more and more involved with tackling social issues. When I was first asked to place myself along the continuum my freshman year, I was hands down transitioning from the first to second stage and it appeared nearly impossible for me to ever reach active citizen status. It seemed like some sort of enlightenment only attainable by incredible community engagement leaders like Melody Porter. However, after three years with BOI and my team, I can definitively say that active citizenship is not some sort of mythical enlightenment after all. It is something that can be attained by all of us. It’s reached by making community a priority in daily life, and being determined enough and passionate enough to tackle the tough social issues facing us today.

Since returning from Belize in January, I’ve often been asked what my favorite experience with Students for Belize Education has been. And my answer hasn’t been getting to teach in the classrooms or help with mangrove restoration, but rather getting to see my younger team members move along the same continuum I did. It is always amazing to see younger members transform from barely knowing much about Belize (except maybe where it is on a map), to trying to understand the educational issues at hand, and then continuing to dig even deeper and challenge themselves after returning to W&M.

Although I’ve been taught a great deal the past four years at this college, my time with BOI continues to remind me that there is always more to learn. Thanks to my amazing alternative break team and BOI, I will be graduating in May with the determination, curiosity, and passion to strive for active citizenship throughout my life.

For anyone interested in service opportunities, check out Branch Out’s amazing national, international, and regional alternative breaks. My advice? Apply. You won’t regret it!