Reading Week 10,000 kilometres from home

Ali Versluis spent her reading week 10,000 kilometres from home.

The fourth-year arts and contemporary studies student was in Bogota, Columbia with Alternative Spring Break (ASB) Ryerson, a student-run group where each year students spend time in a different country, learning about its culture and supporting locals through various activities and initiatives.

This year, those included teaching English and feeding the homeless in the area. I wrote about the group last semester and decided to catch up with some of the students who made the trek to Bogota.

The 12-member team went to the South American country for two weeks from February 11 to 27. It was Versluis’s first time outside of Canada.

“I’ve spent five years in a university classroom learning knowledge that’s been mediated to me. I wanted to go out and gain knowledge for myself,” said Versluis, 23.

Her roommate visited Peru last year with ASB Ryerson and convinced Versluis to go on the trip this year. One of the most memorable moments, she says, was when the ASB Ryerson team spent time with a group of abandoned older women called “Las Abuelitas” – the grandmothers – at a church run by local nuns.

Versluis, whose grandmother was ill back home, initially did not want to go. But when she got there, she had an “unexpected” experience. She says one of the women took her hand and said a prayer for her in Spanish. A person nearby translated the old women’s words: “You have to be strong and if you can’t be, just pray.”

“I couldn’t hold it 10 minutes before I started to cry,” she said. “It helped me deal with some personal stuff (about my own grandmother).”

The trip personally cost Versluis about $1,500. The rest of the cost – $80,000 in total to cover everyone – was fundraised by the team.

Fourth-year journalism student and commuter Pia Bahile says the trip allowed her to connect with Ryerson outside of the classroom.

“I’ve been wanting to go since third year,” she said, adding that it helped her get to know faculty and Ryerson services to turn to for help in coordinating a trip like this. “I haven’t been part of many school activities but this gave me an opportunity to meet other people and travel internationally.”

“It’s the perfect opportunity to get out of the classroom and learn and experience other things…and then bring those skills back to Canada.”

Both Versluis and Bahile say they both recommend spending your reading week on an ASB Ryerson trip.

“After being back home for three days, I already want to go back,” said Bahile.

ASB Ryerson has a six-week trip planned for Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos this summer. To see how you can get involved next year, visit ASB Ryerson for more information.