Since 2001, Seattle University has been sending students, faculty and staff on immersion experiences to the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) located in Managua, Nicaragua. After officially establishing their partnership in 2014 with a signed memorandum of understanding, Campus Ministry hosted an immersion experience with the UCA in Nicaragua two years ago when the two schools’ spring breaks aligned.
The hope for Campus Minister of Social Justice Marilyn Nash was to host students from Nicaragua here in Seattle. This year, the two universities’ spring breaks align again and Campus Ministry will be bringing their vision to fruition by hosting four students from the UCA. They will be joined by six Seattle U students to complete the co-immersion experience.
The co-immersion experience, “Encuentro”—which means encounter—is focused on the exploration of what it means to encounter oneself and people who are different. To prepare for this encounter, students at both universities have been meeting throughout the quarter to build community and gain context about the other group of students.
“Encounter implies a certain level of conversation, dialogue and honesty. We wanted to do our work beforehand so when we come together, we can share honestly and listen deeply,” Nash said. “Encounter is willing to be changed and letting ourselves be seen and see others.”
Anna Robertson, the Campus Minister for retreats, and Lucas Sharma, a Jesuit and sociology professor, have been working with Edith Guzman, the student leader for Encuentro, to lead the formation meetings. During their meetings they have been reflecting on the immersion program values of simplicity, community, solidarity, hospitality and spirituality.
Not only will the students be encountering each other, but they will also explore what it means to encounter themselves—a variety of different identities and different social issues that have impacted the history of Seattle and are currently impacting the people of Seattle.
One of the activities that will create space for an encounter is a presentation from Dale Watanabe, the director of the international student center, about Japanese internment. The students will also be visiting the Japanese exclusion memorial on Bainbridge Island to supplement Watanabe’s presentation. They will then go to the juvenile detention center to discuss restorative justice, and attending chapel services for Holy Week.
“[We want to] encourage students to take advantage of this experience to encounter people who are different than ourselves and explore what ethical imperatives arise, how it changes us and how we live our lives differently as a result,” Robertson said.
Brinkley Johnson, a senior humanities for teaching major, said that she finds getting to meet and participate alongside people from different backgrounds is both exciting and important.
“The encounter that happens between people of different backgrounds, faiths or languages is powerful in our globalized society,” Johnson said. “There are a lot of nuances to immersion experiences and through [these programs], I have learned how to [participate] in a way that is the most just.”
Nash is looking forward to all the different experiences planned for the students, as well as the moments set aside for eating meals and resting.
“I hope they’ll share music, meals and sit around talking and sharing stories—that’s really where the real immersion happens. The real encounter will happen over tea late at night when they’re sharing stories with one another about what they really care about,” Nash said.
Johnson sees living, eating and experiencing these different events with the students from the UCA as an opportunity for her and the members of her team to stretch themselves through the companionship and partnership that other immersion programs do not provide.
“It’s something much more beautiful, the conversations we have are centered around looking at the world through a lens of faith and justice which are things that are very integral to my being,” Johnson said. “All the work I do doesn’t have to save the world but, just building relationships and connecting with people is enough. That is very powerful in itself.”
Guzman values the relationships she has already formed with her team as well as the ones she will further build with the UCA students. One of her hopes for the co-immersion experience is that they are all able to stay connected after.
“I also hope they come back and visit. As a student, we are constantly rushing in our lives and sometimes it’s hard to make those authentic relationships with one another. I just hope it doesn’t end.”
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