Out of My Comfort Zone by Andrew Cowles, Holy Cross Rural Immersion

Spring break is typically a time for students to let loose, drink on the beach, and make memories that, without photo evidence, may not be remembered at all. My friends who chose this route for spring break all seemed to have a blast, but man, did they look terrible when they returned–tired, hungover, and for a few, broke. I can say with certainty that the seven of us from Holy Cross, returning from our spring break at Agape, did not share in their misery. Although not having as much fun in the traditional sense, the week of reflection, new experiences, and hard work at Agape, invigorated the group. Seemingly, everyone who partook in this immersion experience, had a healthier and happier end to the semester. Before Arrival at Agape Before arriving in the Quabbin Woods in Hardwick, I didn’t know much of what to expect from Agape. What little I did know, included the community being vegan and artistic, both far strays from my typical day-to-day life. As an athlete, I don’t often tap into my artistic side, not that other would benefit much if I did, (AKA not very talented); but coming into this Rural Immersion, I told myself “Embrace every new opportunity to make the most of this experience.” Night One On our first night, we were thrown into the immersion full force. Led by Borus, a volunteer and friends of Agape, the group participated in a musical circle. We sang and played instruments to songs, new and old, that the whole group could bond over. It took me out of my comfort zone, pushing me to be expressive around a group I hardly knew. This was the beginning of the bonding process that we would experience in the week ahead. Day Two Day two, the group traveled up to Amherst, MA, to participate in a multi-denominational peace protest about the war in Ukraine. Traveling to Amherst the first day of our trip was ironic because if it weren’t for the immersion trip, I most likely would have been in Amherst anyway. In the past, I have visited my friends at University of Massachusetts, Amherst to partake in the yearly St. Patty’s Day festivities. This time, however, I was picketing on the side of the road. Although slightly uncomfortable, the uncertainty of the situation turned to appreciation after our return to Agape. We reflected as a group on the day’s experiences. With this process, I better understood why these types of rallies are so important: the few who appreciate our presence may spread this appreciation to those around them. Regarding the Ukrainians’ suffering, I realized that perhaps Ukrainians might gain hope by seeing rallies in their support occurring around the world. A Few Days Later A few days later, we students got to spend a lot of time together. As always, we began the day with prayer and then proceeded to work outside. But on this day, a group trip to the Quabbin reservoir provided time for us to bond without the guidance of Agape. We went on a hike together, made TikTok’s, and played games, continuing our fun, well into the night. Before the trip, my group was a mix of fellow students. This night of light-hearted games and storytelling, allowed us to get closer to one another, resulting in inside jokes we would continue to bond over throughout the trip. Night Five Night five for me was the most memorable. Agape offered us a” coffee-less” coffee hour, where Holy Cross students and friends of the community gathered to share a form of artistic expression: a song, a reading or anything particularly meaningful to any of us. For me, not having much artistic talent or a particular inspiration, I observed more than participated. I did manage to add some comedic relief at the end the night with my performance as the little girl from Sound of Music. The love surrounding Agape provided a safe space for people to share the songs, poems, and comedy routines. For example, it is difficult for me to express how meaningful it was to watch a friend of Agape, Peter Anderson, remember his wife who had died a year ago, through the sharing of a poem she had written. Another participant, despite the nerves it caused him, sang a tune that reminded him of his father. The night was as impactful, as it was entertaining, leading us from Holy Cross and the extended Agape Community, into deep sharing and personal reflection. The coffee hour itself made Night Five the most meaningful of the trip. The days leading up to the Coffee House, consisted of learning, hard work, and continued bonding within the group. To end the week, we students affirmed one another. Hearing from and telling others how we respect and appreciate them made me and those around me genuinely happy. I reflected on how meaningless much of our daily interaction is. From this time with fellow students, I learned how to impact positively, the way I recognize the achievements of others, so they can feel appreciated for what may otherwise go unnoticed. Gratitude to Agape and Staff We in the Holy Cross Spring Break Immersion group will always be grateful for Brayton, Suzanne, Tom, Edgar, Borus, Aria, Louisa, Katya, and everyone else who made our experience at Agape so wonderful. For us students, the week was a Breakfast Club-esque experience. It brought a group of diverse students together, who otherwise would never have been friends, and allowed us to bond over our unique, but in many ways similar, struggles, talents, and qualities. Hannah, Brian, Colleen, Sophie, Daniel, Emma and me, Andrew, formed an appreciation for one another that might never have occurred without the week at Agape. Andrew Cowles is a Pre-med, Chemistry major of the class of 2024. At Holy Cross, he is a member of the club rugby team, who this past fall, placed 3rd nationally in the small college division.