Fall Break Offers Unique Opportunities for Learning

November 2nd, 2012 by 

. Fr. Reiser and his Andean Theology students in Tocoli, a small Aymara village, in Bolivia.

. Overlooking the lake in the village of Tocoli, Bolivia.

. The city of La Paz, Bolivia with the Illimani, the second highest mountain peak in Bolivia, in the distance.

. Natives of Tocoli, Bolivia, perform a traditional blessing and pray to La Pachamama (Mother Earth).

. English professor Helen Whall and her “Lear by Line” class in front of front their London residence, the International Student House (ISH).

. Timothy Higgins '07, vice president of Wells Fargo, explains real-time market data to Finance Boot Camp participants.

. The 2012 Finance Boot Camp participants.

From Bolivia to London to New York City, from silent retreats to volunteering in the City of Worcester, College of the Holy Cross students, faculty, and staff did anything but rest over fall break.

The Rocky Path to Bolivia

Rev. William Reiser, S.J., professor of religious studies, and Christopher Ryan, S.J., in the office of grants and corporate and foundation giving, accompanied 10 students to La Paz, Bolivia as part of a seminar Fr. Reiser is teaching this semester titled “Teología Andina” (Andean Theology). The religious studies course, which is conducted in Spanish, examines the way in which the culture of the Aymara people of Bolivia shapes their understanding and expression of Christian faith. “To better understand this, the class spent a week at a theological center in La Paz, meeting and listening to theologians and anthropologists who are studying and writing about religion in the Andean region of Bolivia,” explains Fr. Reiser.

During their stay, they traveled out on the altiplano to a tiny village called Tocoli, which sits on the shore of Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake. “Given the fact that we were at an elevation of 13,000 feet, going down the rocky path to the village was rough, but climbing about 500 feet back up was a real challenge,” Fr. Reiser recalled. “The welcome of the villagers, together with the dance, the meal, and the intercultural religious service on a hill above the shore, made that day unforgettable.”

Kristie Simono ’13, a psychology and Spanish major with a concentration in Latin American and Latino studies, who participated in the trip says, “What made this experience so meaningful was being able to actually see first-hand the culture and environment that I’ve been studying for the past couple of weeks in class,” she shares. “The Bolivian culture is very unique in that they believe in something called La Pachamama, Mother Earth. In their eyes, everything is equal (e.g. a human is equal to lettuce) and I think that understanding this concept was initially difficult, but made a lot more sense after seeing it up close.”

Simono, who is from Boston, Mass., said her favorite experience was going to Tocoli and dancing and eating with the villagers. “They were very warm and welcoming,” she says. “I believe traveling to Bolivia will enhance my understanding of the material during the remaining of the semester.”

Five Days of Silence

Twenty-eight students took part in the spiritual exercises, a five-day silent retreat, sponsored by the chaplains’ office, at the Campion Retreat Center in Weston, Mass.

Lauren Spurr ’13, a political science major with a peace and conflict studies concentration, from Mendham, N.J., says it was really important for her to participate in this Holy Cross tradition before leaving the Hill. “I needed some quiet reflection time out of the crazy schedule that I have at Holy Cross, and I also wanted to put some serious thought into what I want to do after graduation.”

The retreat was a mix of input sessions, Masses and private reflection time. “Once a day we would meet with our spiritual advisor to talk about where we were in our prayer and reflections,” shares Spurr. “My spiritual advisor was [former Holy Cross president] Fr. McFarland and I felt so honored to be able to share my experience with him.”

Spurr says during the retreat she felt like she was able to grow in her relationship with God and reconnect with her values. “I also left the retreat with greater clarity about what I want to be doing after Holy Cross,” she shares. “I feel so fortunate to have had this experience, and look forward to the ways in which it will manifest itself back on the Hill.”

Andrew Marzo ’14, an economics major in the College Honors Program, from Berkeley Heights, N.J., says he had the false perception that the silent retreat was for very religious people who were considering a vocation in the Church, but after some of his friends went last year, he decided to take part. “The retreat emphasized that self reflection and self awareness are critical to develop my own independent, original thoughts as a leader at Holy Cross and after,” he shares. “Without the distractions of technology or social conversations, I had the time and clarity to focus on how fortunate I had been throughout my life.”

Marzo, who is active on campus, like so many other Holy Cross students, admits he has little time for himself. “During the silent meals, I learned to enjoy eating slowly rather than quickly shoving food down my throat, and moving onto the next activity,” he explains. “More importantly, the absence of activities in my busy life allowed me to develop reflective skills. Rather than just reacting to news or facts, I developed the beginning foundation of a self awareness that will allow me to examine information in the greater context of my life rather than my immediate emotional response.”


The chaplains’ office sponsored a Worcester Immersion Program for the second year in a row over the break. “Seven first-year students and two senior leaders participated in the program,” shares Martin Kelley, associate chaplain and director of the Arrupe Immersion Program, “which seeks to provide first-year students with a balanced perspective on this city where they will live for the next four years.”

The experience, dubbed “Woomersion,” was designed to allow students to engage in the city of Worcester and with its resident during their time at Holy Cross.

Moving out of their dorms and taking up residence at the Concordia Lutheran Church for the week, the group visited various houses of worship to learn about Worcester’s religious diversity. They ate at local ethnic restaurants, visited cultural organizations, parks, museums, and participated in various service opportunities such as working at a food pantry in Main South and mentoring local youth. They even got to meet Mayor Joseph Petty.

“I decided to take part in the program because I do not want to live in Worcester for the next four years and never really experience the city,” shares Emily Conn ’16, who is from Melrose, Mass. “The immersion program allowed me to see everything Worcester has to offer and I just could not pass up that opportunity.”

She says her favorite part was visiting the Worcester Islamic Center. “I knew very little about Islam coming into the trip and learning about the religion and meeting the Muslim people of Worcester was an incredible and eye-opening experience,” she explains. “The Worcester immersion program has helped me to appreciate my new home. I recommend it to every first-year student. This city is just too interesting to admire from afar.”

The chaplains’ office also sponsored immersion trips to the L’Arche community in Haverhill, Mass., and a Rural Immersion in Ware, Mass.

The L’Arche community is an international network of homes where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together in a community of faith and friendship. Students had the opportunity to share daily life and build relationships through work, prayer, and celebration.

The rural immersion trip focused on environment and sustainable living with integrated periods of prayer and reflection. Brayden and Suzanne Shanley, founders of the Agape Community, led student in planting, gardening, stacking wood, and preparing meals together while learning about how to live an eco-conscious and contemplative lifestyle.

Finance Boot Camp Travels to Wall Street

Twenty-four students took part in Finance Boot Camp, a four-day immersion in understanding the institutional framework and career specializations of Wall Street, offered through the Ciocca Office of Entrepreneurial Studies.

Out of 78 applicants, only 24 students were accepted. The rigorous program, conducted entirely by Holy Cross alumni executives from various fields, covers an array of topics including “Entrepreneurial Finance: Venture Capital & Private Equity,” “Introduction & Overview of the Divisions of Wall Street,” “Wealth Management, Alternative Investment & Hedge Funds,” “Sales and Trading & Equities and Bonds,” and “Investment Banking.”

The program, which was introduced last year, added a new component this time around. Students took a day trip to New York City to visit banks and trading floors. Timothy Higgins ’07, vice president of Wells Fargo, hosted the whole group at his office in Midtown Manhattan. “After a session with Tim, students split into teams of three and proceeded to eight different banks in Manhattan to shadow alumni in those banks,” says David Chu, director of the Ciocca Office of Entrepreneurial Studies. “The real-life learning these students received that day from alumni in Manhattan was invaluable. Seeing sales and trading done in front of eight computer monitors flashing real-time market data is something that would never have been possible if we had just stayed in the classroom and listened to speakers.”

London Calling

Helen Whall, professor of English, took nine students to London, England, as part of a seminar she is currently teaching titled “Lear by Line,” in which students read and re-read the Shakespearian tragedy “King Lear.” “We study patterns within the play, analyze key characters and scenes and review scholarship on the play,” she explains. “We also look at most of Shakespeare’s own source materials and find materials about relevant theatrical, political and cultural issues of his time.”

Whall, says the trip was largely inspired by the “World Shakespeare Festival” in England, which ran parallel to the Olympics. “Many of the events and global productions had ended by October but a few wonderful ones were still available, including Jonathan Pryce as King Lear in a production that is now completely sold out,” she explains. “The Shakespeare exhibit at the British Museum (closing in November) has assembled more Shakespeareana from around the country than is ever likely to be brought together again.”

During this cultural and theatrical exploration of the city of London, the group took in numerous plays including “The Tempest,” “Richard III” and “Much Ado About Nothing”; toured many museums and galleries including National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria & Albert; and even visited Shakespeare’s birthplace.

Patrick Simas ’14, an English and theatre major from West Roxbury, Mass., says prior to fall break he had never been across the Atlantic Ocean. “I’ve always had a deep desire to travel, especially to foreign countries,” he shares. “I think travel is perhaps the greatest teacher. I had always wanted to go to London to see the history, the burgeoning new culture, and the theatre.”

Whall co-directed the trip with Alycia Smith-Howard ’89, who was the group’s British liaison. Smith-Howard completed her Ph. D. at the Birmingham Shakespeare Institute in England after graduating from Holy Cross, and now is a theater historian for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

“It was a wonderful, intense week in which I know I learned not only as much as my students, but also much from them,” reflects Whall.

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