Examining the Value of the Mexico Trip: the Case to Go

Daniel Banin, ACL Co-Editor

On Friday April 8, 2022 excitement was in the air because two days later, 160 high school students would begin a journey across the US-Mexico border to reach Tijuana. This year, students have already been sorted out into 15 teams of 12 -14 students. The trip is an annual event organized by the Piedmont Community Church where students travel to Mexico to build homes for families in need. Since the first trip 18 years ago, the annual tradition has brought over 5,000 students who have cumulatively built  over 450 houses. 

Before the 2022 trip, the first trip in two years due to the pandemic, students cited that their main motivations for going were to enjoy themselves and spend time with friends.  

“I signed up [For the 2022 trip] to spend time with friends,” Junior Brit Burden said. 

A similar thought was echoed by one of the parent chaperones. 

“I think they all want to party and have fun with their friends,” said mom and chaperone Teresa Gilliland.

Other motivations included checking the box for community hours and boosting college applications.

“Perhaps it’s no surprise, when kids are trained to think of service as something they are ultimately doing for themselves—that is, for their resumes.‘Do well by doing good,’ goes the slogan. How about just doing good?” said Yale University professor and admissions officer William Deresiewicz. 

As it had in past years, the so-called ‘Mexico magic,’ the name for the knowledge that students gain, struck again and for many students was a pivotal moment for personal, social, and community growth. 

The entitlement of the Piedmont students was a topic before the trip that was noticed by some of the chaperones. 

“I have a lot of skewed views about Piedmont and the entitlement. These kids who are growing up with so much and then not really appreciating it. I think (the Mexico trip) is a really powerful thing for these kids. It makes them appreciate so much more about their lives, about their community and about each other, and as the week goes by you realize that the ‘Mexico magic’ is striking again,” Gilliland said.

“It was a really great experience to help, get outside the Piedmont bubble, and learn that there’s more going on in the world,” senior Julia Shalev said, who joined the trip in 2022. 

The growth was also noticed by some of the chaperones. 

“I saw a lot of kids become who they really are and begin to embrace and respect their differences.” Gilliland said. 

Students also took direct inspiration from the families they helped.

“The biggest lesson that I took back is to just be grateful for everything that I have. There are a lot of people that have a lot less or a lot less fortunate than I am.  They’re just happy all the time even though they have nothing,” junior Zach Feldstien said, who attended the Mexico trip in 2022. 

 The trip helped students discover the beauty of helping others too. 

“You just feel like joy, just a sense of peace and joy. It’s a great feeling when you help people,” Burden said. 

“It was a really emotional trip, parts of it were sad, just seeing some of the conditions that people are living in. There is a special key ceremony at the end where you give them (the families) their keys. And it’s really emotional,” Shalev said.

Students learned to go outside their comfort zones, and to reveal their vulnerabilities.

“It is so nice to see us all let our guards down.” Gilliland said, “A senior, a kid that looks like a popular kid at school, stood up and shared that this was such an amazing experience.  He just got up there and started crying. He said he really felt close to everyone on his team. He hopes that they can continue this relationship.”   

A new aspect from last year’s trip that was also replicated in this year’s trip, was the way teams were formed. 

“I saw a lot more bonding in the students [2022 trip] than in past years,” Gilliland said.

The 2022 year’s goal was to build a “sanctuary” – a safe refuge of inclusion for everyone – for the first time, the teams were selected in a different way.  

“We purposely put the team together with a bit of randomness, so you may not know the rest of the people on your team very well. “ said Student Minister Scott Kail,. 

“I want them to take away the idea that they can be agents of change and hope in people’s lives.  They don’t have to repeat the trip and go down to Mexico and build another house, they can do it wherever they are,” Kail said.  

As a new year is starting, and with it another Mexico trip will soon be on the horizon for new and returning students.  This time however, the motivations to participate in the trip will be drastically different. 

“When I signed up for the trip [last year], I wanted to spend time with friends. But my motivation for [this] year and the year after that are going to be different.  Now I know that I want to go to help people,” said Burden.