Do you know the people you go to school with? Do you really know them? That is the question that the 18 students who went on Seaholm’s annual Diversity Retreat began to answer.
Though the students on the retreat were not extremely diverse, we all came from different backgrounds and it was interesting to find out about peoples’ lives and how they grew up.
Whether we were broken up into our small groups, playing games in the big group, sitting around a campfire, or hanging out in the cabins, we all had a great time just getting to know each other in a way that probably would not have happened otherwise.
The students were broken into two different small groups at the beginning of the weekend and that is who we spent most of our time with. Inside our small groups we got to break down social barriers and talk to each other in a safe environment where no one had to worry about others judging them. Everything that was said within the groups is to remain confidential and is not to be brought up with anyone outside of our small groups.
Within these groups we were given the opportunity to talk about anything and everything we wanted. We were able to talk about things that we usually could not share with others and not worry about what anyone thought of us. There were some people who had no problem sharing what was on their mind, and people who really stepped out of their comfort zones and opened up to everyone. There were also a few people who didn’t say much but really listened to what everyone else had to say. They may not have shared much, but when they did speak, the few words that they spoke carried a lot of meaning.
We had six different meetings with our small groups and in these meetings we all realized that we had a lot more in common with everyone than we originally thought. We were all able to relate to one another on more than one level. We all shared personal stories with each other and I was able to really open up to everyone. I am generally a very reserved person and do not share much with strangers, but over the course of this weekend I was able to talk about past experiences with the people in my group.
There were also a lot of emotions throughout the weekend. Though I cannot say exactly what was said within our small groups, I can say that many of the things discussed made everyone very emotional. There were many instances where people cried over shared experiences. One person even admitted to crying for the first time in almost seven years. They said that they had been keeping their emotions bottled up for a long time and said what a relief it was to finally be able to let it all out.
At the beginning of the weekend we were challenged to turn off our cell phones and iPods and to keep them off all weekend so that we could fully concentrate on what was going on around us. Upon hearing this, almost everyone’s hands flew to their pockets, as though they could protect their precious electronic devices. When our group leader, Paul VanErmen, told us that they would not collect the phones, but would instead trust us to keep them turned off and in our suitcases, there was an audible sigh of relief from around the room.
I can’t speak for the others, but not using my phone was one of the hardest things that anyone had asked me to do in a while. I’ll even admit to giving in a few times and turning it on to check my messages and find out what was happening back in Birmingham. When the leaders went to bed, you could hear the sound of phone buttons being pushed all night.
Overall, the retreat was an amazing opportunity. If anyone had asked me before if I would be friends with some of the people on the trip, I would probably say no. After going on this retreat I realize that everybody goes through difficult things but when we get the opportunity to be around others the difficulties seem to work out easier. Problems aren’t looming in the distance because others were there to give advice. This retreat was more than a place to meet new people; it was a place to make lifelong friendships.