Read the final paragraphs of each student on the trip as they traveled home from Browning...
As we are traveling back home and this trip comes to a close, I am realizing that even after I return to school and life seems to go back to normal, this trip will be anything but over. The relationships I developed with the students are still very much alive; and whether or not I see them again, the interactions I had with them will continue to influence my character for the rest of my life. Going into this week, I was determined not to be just another immersion student passing through. I wanted to have an impact on the community. As I look back on the week, I have realized that the entire group has accomplished this goal. Between the letters, photographs, and overall farewells, it is evident that the students loved our presence in the classroom and will most certainly miss us. Although we may have pushed them a little harder to stay on task and do their best work more than previous immersion groups, we also developed in-depth relationships with many of the students that we will never forget and neither will they. This trip has taught me that patience can sometimes be all it takes to make changes in the lives of many. Many of the students portrayed the attitude of not wanting to do their work or be in school when problems got tough, but if we persevered through that and explained the importance of the work and how to do it step-by-step, they began to excel in the assignments. I refuse to let this be the last time I interact with this beautiful and unique community, but until then, this trip will be guiding me situation to situation into my future and making me the man I am destined to be.
Looking back on this trip, I realized that it was one of the greatest experiences ever. From the relationships built to the positive memories of the students and to the deep reflections, this is something that I will remember and take with me for the rest of my life. I have been on other immersion trips but the Montana immersion trip seemed like it was the perfect set up for true life-changing reflections and relationships. I went on the trip believing that I would be changed in small ways as I have been by all my experiences; however, I could not have expected the trip to be as it turned out. The relationships I speak of are with the Blackfeet students but also with the two teachers and nine other guys that I had the pleasure of being with on the trip. On one of the final mornings of the trip, the principal talked to all of the students and explained that there would be another group coming in the day after we leave. I was struck by this because it made me think that we were just another group coming in to help then we would be gone the following week with no foundations of relationships. This feeling was dismissed when it was time to leave. Students asked for pictures, gave me their gaming usernames so that I can watch them play, told me to come back to visit and recommended colleges in Montana so that I would be closer in the next chapter of my life. This made me believe that I was not just another immersion student to these kids and that they knew how much I cared about them. I plan to take what I have reflected so deeply upon and put it into action in my life as I begin to take huge strides towards my future. I have learned so much about Blackfeet culture, young kids, and myself that it would be almost impossible to return to normal and go on without being affected in many ways. Thank you, Mr. Ortiz, Mr. Bobak, Ryan, John, Andy, Colin, James, Ray, Conner, Michael, and Matt for making this trip amazing.
So many amazing things will come to mind now when I hear the word “Montana”. I will think about all the memories of the amazing sights in Glacier National Park. I will think about the town of Browning and all those in need of help. I will think of the fifth-grade class and all the other students at that middle school. Nevertheless, the thing I will remember the most is how it affected me personally. Going into this I had the mentality of “Wow. I finally get to go on the Montana Immersion trip. I’ll probably get the same awesome experience as my older brother!”…that was not the case. My story is unique compared to his in all aspects. When I landed in Montana, I had my question on repeat stuck in my head and it was not until I forgot what it was that I found my answer. I found my answer in the kids while teaching them the lessons that they at first could not understand, and that to genuinely serve someone you have to completely understand their situation to form strong bonds. The teachers recognized when a kid did not understand the material and that is when we would step in and break it down for them so they could understand it. Though I only had a week with these kids, each day felt like a year going by because the school days were so long. I could not help but get misty eyed when I finally had to say goodbye to these kids because of the impact we had on each other. I found my answer in Glacier National Park when I realized that I needed to explore more of the beautiful world God has created for us because there is more to my life than just Towson. I found my answer in the group of guys. The ten of us will never forget all the laughs, to the point of tears, we had around the table at the bunkhouse. We also will not forget all the stories we heard from each other about life in general or about the kids. I found my answer not on this trip but from the people around me. Mr. Ortiz and Mr. Bobak…Thank you so much for guiding us throughout this journey I honestly think I could not have done it with any other teacher. To Ryan, Nate, James, Mike, John, Colin, Ray, Connor and Matt I hope we can continue this brotherhood beyond Montana.
All the alumni said that one week was not enough time, and they were all right. This week was not easy; it had many difficulties, but if this trip has shown me anything, it is to look more on the positive side of events. The beautiful views of Glacier National Park, the unique chance to explore an area and culture that I was unfamiliar with, and the chance to get away from all the figurative and literal noise of life back home was all great. However, what made this trip was the people. Every one of the kids who I was blessed to meet and serve, the teachers who showed me what it means to love your job with a true passion and zeal that living in virtually the middle of nowhere is not a concern, to the teachers and fellow classmates who went on this life-changing experience with me. Pictures are nice of all the mountains and sights we saw, but what I want to take the most with me is the laughs, the games of president around the table, and the feeling of joy that shot through me the first time a student asked to work with me by name for an assignment. I would be lying if I said I am apprehensive about returning to normal life. There are a few reasons for this. The foremost of these being the fear that I will forget all of these aforementioned moments and lessons that I have learned throughout this week. However, I do not hope, but know that the near-obsessive amount of writing I did on this trip in almost every detail will make sure that I never forget these people. Like I have said at the beginning, one week was not enough time. Saying goodbye to those kids who I really felt I had only just scratched the surface of was single-handedly one of the hardest things I have had to do in my life. I came into this trip thinking that I would be a hero, but that exact opposite is true. They were the ones who saved me, and above all, they showed me that you cannot let every negative thing in life limit you from living it. They have been through so much more than I have, but their capacity to let someone into their lives even knowing that they would be leaving is one of the most awe-inspiring things I have ever witnessed in my entire life.
Ryan James Ritzes
Although last night’s reflection was pretty juicy, I’d like to wrap it all up with one more paragraph. We are currently 35,000 feet in the air, on our way back home (the one in Maryland, not the new one in Montana). Our seats are spread out around the plane, and I happen to be sitting next to a kind woman and her young daughter. I asked if they were from the area, and they said no—they are actually from Philadelphia; they come out to Montana solely for snowboarding. Then the mother asked me what I was doing out here, and at first, I could not think of what to tell her. What didn’t we do? We flew across the country to spend a week living in a community, learning about and serving the population of Browning, spending time with the kids, climbing mountains, praying and eating together, and all while discovering each other and ourselves on a deeper level than we had ever ventured before. To answer her question, I settled with: “Twelve of us came out here from Baltimore to tutor some kids in Browning. It was fun!” It was fun. But it was so much more than that. And I am grateful for having been a part of it.
Before I embarked on this journey of faith, service, and discernment, I had a few concerns about how my experience would be and what I would get out of this trip. On top of that, spending a week in the middle of nowhere, with no technology nor connection to the outside world, and having to teach an 8th-grade class that combatted my every action only verified my initial claims, but only for a few days. However, it was through these obstacles that I truly understood why I desired to serve in Browning.
As I am writing this, I recall one of the questions that I had wrestled with the entire week: “Am I ready?” Even as we approached Thursday after a long, very exhausting day, I was still unsure whether I was truly ready and whether I could make a genuine impact in my students’ lives. But it was on Friday, the very last day at the school, that I was able to break through with my students and understand my true purpose for being on this trip. To keep things short, I had a small, personal discussion with my students and I was able to show them what they had not seen in a while: their uniqueness. After the last day of saying goodbye to the students, I was approached by one in particular who said, “There is something different about you immersion students. You’re not only here to help us in school, but you really care for us.”
Nothing may have been able to prepare me for this trip, but I just want to say that the memories I have made and the brothers I have served with will not disappear once we return to Dulles and then school on Monday. Serving in Montana has not only been one of the most difficult immersion trips I have been on, but it is a journey that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. All I can say now is that I gave my all for this trip and, in return, it has given me so much more than I could have imagined.
Looking back on my experience, this trip has been one that I will be sure not to forget. The multitude of activities each day made the week a long and tough one, with little time to rest in between. However, with time for self-reflection each night, this week became a profoundly life-changing experience for me. I came into the week with the question: “What is my purpose?” which is something that I have searched for in my life. What I learned is that in order to discover who you are, you must give of yourself to others. I am not sure I answered my question completely, but what I was able to do is learn how to serve selflessly for others, which I think is a start.
Leading up to the trip, I had my doubts about how this experience would be. Going to remote Montana and staying with a group of nine other guys who I had only known on a surface level was intimidating. The biggest worry was that only two others were Juniors! However, I knew deep down I really wanted to go, and I was elated when I found out I was accepted. After those few meetings we had before the trip, I felt like I knew my group a little more, but even still I had anxiety coming into the trip and did not believe I could form incredibly deep relationships with each one of them in just a week. It did not take long to figure out that all these thoughts would be so incredibly wrong.
Some of my most memorable moments of the trip were around the table we ate and reflected at each night. The rest occurred in the De Lasalle Blackfeet School where we served in each day and where I learned so much about what it meant to be a Lasallian and a Christian. I had the pleasure of being able to work with the 4th-grade class, which proved to be a true test of my patience both in and out of the classroom. It amazed me how much there was to learn by helping to teach students that come from a multitude of different backgrounds. I learned more from my students than I think I could have taught them in a week. I was given the word Discovery before the trip as something to personally reflect on during my journey, and one of my greatest discoveries was a passion to serve, and a motivation to push myself to be the best version of myself.
There were many trying moments in the week, but I would never trade this experience. To be able to serve and learn so much about American Indian history and culture from actual members of the Blackfeet Tribe was incredibly humbling. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience that I am blessed to have been able to have with such an amazing group of guys I am proud to call my Brothers.
Going into this trip, I had little to no idea what to expect. The plane rides to Denver and Great Falls were filled with worries about what was going to happen, how I would handle it, and how the kids would respond to some person coming to their school for a week to boss them around. Then, on the night before the first day of classes, Mr. Ortiz had us write something down in our binders; “Tomorrow, I come second.” This idea changed the entire trip for me, especially after spending time with the kids. Suddenly, I did not matter so much anymore. I did not come on this trip to serve myself, and I definitely did not come on this trip to let fear hold me back. In each of the five days in school, I was able to help the kids with anything from addition word problems to their Catholic Schools Week essay, but this was not the highlight of the trip. The bonds that I was able to form with those sixth graders in one week were amazing. Going into the week, I wanted to get close to as many kids as possible and try to be someone who could teach and guide them, but I never expected them to teach me as much as they did.
Every night after school, all of us would come back to the bunkhouse and reflect on the day. Looking back on my reflections now, I am beginning to appreciate all of the memories, lessons, and relationships I acquired on this trip. Not only did I get to bond with the children in our grades, but I also got to bond with every person who came into this experience with me. As I looked around the table last night during the final reflection, I realized that I could associate every face with multiple great memories and that I would never forget how close we all got during our one short week together.
Coming out of this experience, I am so happy to say that I have learned more in this week about myself, my peers, and fifteen children than I could have ever imagined. This week ended up being so much more than service. It was an experience that changed me for the better, and an experience that I will never forget.
I cannot believe the week has come to an end in Browning. So much has happened in these last seven days although it feels like it went by so fast. I will never forget the countless memories, jokes, views, relationships, and lessons from the trip. Among my favorite memories are signing music with the guys in the 12 passenger van, petting every stray dog we saw, getting our rental jeep unstuck from a foot of mud, and daily basketball games against the tenacious middle schoolers. Then when I think about jokes, it is hard to pick just a few because the entire week was filled with laughs. I don’t think I have ever laughed harder than every time John Mirarchi would speak. As I think about the jokes on this trip, he is either the subject or the one that said it for half of them. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be the jokes about his bloody nose that we shared after he returned from the hospital and revealed the blood stains on his reflection book. Next, the views were just incredible, and no words could portray the beauty of Montana. My favorites were: the mountains we saw when driving into Glacier National park, the stars when we stopped on the way into town on the freeway, the view of the city and all the lights as we would drive over a hill into Browning in the morning, and the mountains on the unexpected drive to Bozeman.
Then there is my favorite part of the trip; the relationships that I formed. I really love the bond that the twelve of us formed. I did not know any of the guys very well coming into the trip but now I feel as if we’ve all been friends since freshman year. It is really cool how in such a short time we were able to open up to each other and form such strong bonds. Although the relationships formed with my fellow Calvert Hall students was special, my bond with the De La Salle Blackfeet students felt even more special. It was not until the last couple of days that I really got to know the kids, but once I did, and they felt comfortable enough to open up and listen to me, the trip got so much better. There were two students in particular that I got really close with: Briley and Trentin. They were the coolest little kids and taught me so much more about myself than I could ever teach them. From them, I learned that perseverance always pays off and to never get discouraged if at first, I cannot succeed. There is hope for the future of the Blackfeet people because these kids were so bright. I am so blessed with what I have after hearing their situations and how God is able to speak to us through those around us. As I sit here on the plane ride home, I feel as if I could go on and on about this last week but there are some things that I can truly not describe, as this week was so special that words fail to do it justice.
As I sit on the plane back to the east coast, I realize how much I am going to miss Browning, Montana. This trip has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. The students and faculty of De LaSalle Blackfeet School taught me so much this week and for that, I am beyond thankful to have had this opportunity. The 8th-grade students have been through so much more than the average 13-year-old Americans. Some of them opened up to Matt and me about drug use and other habits that were baffling. However, you cannot blame them because they are a product of their environment. The town of Browning is so small and so impoverished that it would be almost impossible to be exposed to some of these things. We could see this poverty in the run-down houses and countless dogs that roam the streets. One student showed potential and gave Matt and me hope when they finally said: “this isn’t cool”. This student, who was visibly part of the “popular”, exclusive clique, also told me that one thing that made them feel bad was “being mean”. This student was not the only one to show that there might be a generation of hope coming out of this small town. Hope is definitely visible in the De LaSalle Blackfeet School Class of 2018. Many students lacked the ability to stay focused and do their work sometimes but not a single student lacked intelligence. I think that they, by the end of the week, saw that we were trying to show them that. Matt and I overheard one of them say, during our last goodbye, “there is something different about the Calvert Hall immersion students”. This is why we prepared and worked so much for this trip. Many of the students saw the patience that we had with them and the persistence to get them to the answers without giving up. One major theme that we, as a group, talked about this week was “Are we just passing through”. I think that we all successfully shattered that fear. The students responded well to us and taught all of us so much. Two major things they taught me that come to mind are to never judge someone or count them out from success and to be persistent and have patience with anyone and they will show you their potential. I know that some of the students and teachers from De LaSalle Blackfeet School sometimes venture onto this page to read what we have written. So, to them, I’d like to say, If you are reading this, thank you for an amazing week that I will never forget and good luck in the future with all of your endeavors and remember that success, with patience and drive, is always achievable. Finally, to the other Calvert Hall students that went on this trip with me, thank you for an amazingly funny, exciting, Unforgettable week and I am happy to call you brothers.