Last year, Camila Arroyo, a UT Austin alum (HDO ’23) took a spring break trip of a lifetime to New Orleans, Louisiana, where she spent her days working on neighborhood beautification projects and her evenings touring the city’s eateries and famous landmarks. As the leader of the Community Engagement Collective’s 2022 Alternative Breaks Trips Committee, Arroyo played a key role in planning the trip—from renting road-trip vehicles to strategizing the budget to coordinating food and housing.
We caught up with the Mexico City native to learn more about her experiences in the Crescent City—and why every student should dedicate some time to giving back to the community.
Why does it mean to you to give back to the community?
Alternative Breaks has five values: simplicity, community, service, learning and active citizenship. Giving back to the community is a big part of being a well-rounded active citizen. As college students, it’s our responsibility to help out—not just here in Austin, but in communities we’re not familiar with.
What multicultural lessons did you glean from this trip?
Seven out of the 15 students in our group were from Saudi Arabia. While living and working with them, I learned more about their religion and culture and how to adjust my lifestyle while living together. So many languages were spoken including Portuguese, French, Arabic and Spanish. While working in the neighborhoods, we would collectively sing together to all sorts of music from all over the world. It was truly a unique experience.
Of all the neighborhood beautification projects you worked on, what was your favorite?
I know it doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, but my favorite activity was building fences. We ran into a lot of challenges hitting roots while digging holes, and it required a lot of teamwork. We actually kept a root as a memento and named it “Cute Root.” You can find it in the Community Engagement Center building.
What did you enjoy most about this trip?
My favorite experience was exploring the city. I saw a lot of New Orleans, including the art scene. Everyone was impacted by the art and insightful discussions at Studio B. It’s a Back-owned exhibit with amazing art and really interesting graffiti outside. A big topic of conversation was gentrification and understanding race and history in the South. Murals and graffiti really tell the story in a beautiful way.
How did this trip help sharpen your lens on social justice issues in historically disadvantaged neighborhoods?
I took a lot of courses at UT that focused on these issues, but the learning experience is way different when you are immersed in the community. You get a new perspective when you work with people in these areas that are affected by discriminatory systems.
How did you personally benefit from this experience?
After this trip, my leadership skills have really improved. I learned a lot about budgeting, planning, leading big groups and public speaking. Also, I have improved my listening skills. During our reflections, we would all sit down and listen to each other talk. I learned how to back up and really listen, and to be comfortable with silence. It’s important to have that space to take in what we received.
What advice would you like to give to a student who’s interested in signing up for Alternative Breaks?
My Best advice would be to do it! Lean into that discomfort and accept that you might not know everything going into this trip. It’s amazing to meet more students of different cultures and to work with them in a new city. This is a great opportunity and a very meaningful way to spend your spring break.
More About Alternative Breaks
Housed within the Center for Community Engagement, Alternative Breaks (AB) is a student-led program that sends small groups of students to communities across the country for a week of service-learning projects. In Spring 2023, two cohorts of students will participate in AB trips to Mexico City and New Orleans from March 12-18. Go here for more information.