MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Twelve undergraduates inserted themselves directly into the challenges faced by Central American asylum seekers who recently crossed into the United States from Mexico, during a Middlebury Alternative Break (MAlt) service trip to Texas in early February.

As soon as the Middlebury students arrived in San Antonio, they launched into the two-fold work of a) helping family members prepare for their “credible fear interviews” with U.S. officials, and b) orienting the families once they had been released from the detention center to a Greyhound bus station.

“We were often the first friendly faces these families saw in the United States,” one student remarked, “and we let them know they are welcome here.”

Like all MAlt trips – and there were six service trips this year – months of planning and fund raising go into the student-led and student-designed off-campus experiences.

“MAlt trips help our students see themselves as full participants in local and global communities,” explained J. Ashley Laux ’06, the program director of the Center for Community Engagement, which coordinates the trips. “Participants have a role in enacting positive social change, not just while they are on their trips but also as they explore scholarly pursuits at Middlebury and in life beyond college.

“The MAlt Texas trip provided students with a human-centered experience that will catalyze deeper engagement in U.S./Mexico border issues. The participants will continue to engage the topic through their curricular connections, activism, and/or continued volunteer service. MAlt helps students connect their volunteer service with the root causes and systems that affect the communities they serve,” said Laux.


, which was used by all of the 2019 MAlt trip participants. The other trips were: Roots of Resilience in Puerto Rico; Education Beyond the Classroom in Jamaica; Storytelling through Art Therapy in Philadelphia; Community, Creativity, and Conservation in Port St. Lucie, Florida; and Exploring Haitian-Dominican Race Relations in Puerta Plata, D.R.