Missouri State University
Immersion Programs
A chronicle of Missouri State immersion service trips

Pop the College Bubble

We have arrived in Costa Rica to grow as people through experiential learning, and I am beyond excited about this group of students. The first goal of this trip is to “pop the college bubble,” which can be interpreted differently by everyone. To me, it means to go outside of one’s comfort zone in order to expand knowledge, skills, and outlook on the world. Throughout this week of service, I have no doubt that these six students will approach and extend beyond their comfort levels by challenging themselves. Already, in the time we’ve spent traveling together, I have witnessed each of these student do just that. Whether it was a first-time flyer, someone who does not know much Spanish, or someone who has not done cut volunteering, each step into the ‘unknown’ is a learning milestone.
I know that I will extend myself personally during the week, s we will discuss topics such as meaningful service, reciprocal partnerships, community building, sustainability, active citizenship, etc. I am so excited to learn about each student and what change they aspire to make in the world.

img_0736 img_0737 img_0750 img_0754“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” -Donald Walsh

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Awesome Immersion Trip in KC!

Hello there! I’m an international student from China. I really really appreciate this great chance provided by BearBreaks program which has widen my horizen and taught me a lot. I saw the application of this immersion trip to Kansas City last month and impressed by its mission which aims at helping more people in need. I am so grateful to be selected and know my nice and helpful teammates.  The leaders of the group are so great. They take good care of all members and arrangements go very well. We explored Kansas City and create many happy and unforgetable moments. We served at Holy Cross Catholic School with Alumni and did fun recess activities with the kids. I really enjoy the moments when we connected with each other. Furthermore, we prepared and served two meals at Ronald McDonald House to the families there with alumni. We are so proud of being bears and learn a lot from helping others. Though 3-day trip is short, our team worked in unity and cooperated with each other. I love the relaxing and happy atmosphere in the group. And I can feel the kindness from my good teammates. We did really had a wonderful time in KC!!! In addition, charity system in Kansas is sound. The facilities in Ronald McDonald House is very cool! I’ll keep helping the people in need after I back to Springfield. In a word, I love my team, I love this trip and I am looking forward to our next trip! And Bear Break Program is really a good platform for students to experience different conditions and gain a lot to enrich themselves. Go bears!


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Bears Breaking Barriers in KC

I have been a part of Bear Breaks since March of this year (2016) and in these few short months it has continued and continued to amaze me. I attended my first Bear Bpplied to be a trip leader because I wanted to help recreate my amazing experiences and memories for others. Luckily, I am co-leading the same Dallas trip this upcoming Spring with the amazing Sarah Harp and it has definitely been an adventure; however, my most recent experience with Bear Breaks is the weekend fall trip I took to Kansas City.


I realize there is a lot of background emotion tied to my words and that what I’ve said so far has way more weight to me than it would have to someone else reading this, so I’m going to try my best to explain the impact that this organization makes. On this trip, we were blessed with the opportunity to serve children at the Holy Cross after school program, The Upper Room, as well as preparing and serving meals for families staying in several Ronald McDonald Houses. The most important part of that is the word serve. We didn’t help them. We didn’t fix them. We served them. Service is much more than helping or fixing. Helping and fixing says “Here, let me do this for you because you can’t” or “You need help from someone, so I will do it.” Serving is an active decision to do things with people, not for people. Serving is an active decision to put someone else before yourself. Serving is an active decision to love someone more than words could ever say or do. This is why I look up to every single person from our KC trip, from the trip leaders to the participants to our advisor. Every person on that trip decided to give up time that would otherwise be their own in order to give themselves to others. They gave up sleep, social plans, money, time, energy, and more because they actively decided to serve. This is how communities are strengthened. This is how communities are improved. This is how we as a collective can make better lives for all. And this is absolutely crazy to me. If you asked me a little over two years ago what I thought of Missouri State’s Public Affairs Mission or what it meant to be a Citizen Bear I would probably have loved the idea but thought it was overrated or a silly concept to chase after. But it is now, through Bear Breaks, that I understand what this means. All of us from Missouri State are combined through one thing: we are Bears, but when we take what we have in common to the next level and actively decide that together we can and will make better communities is when we become Citizen Bears. I am proud to be a Bear. I am proud to be a part of Bear Breaks. But I am most proud that with my peers we can better our communities around us and become Citizen Bears dedicated to making a difference.


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Overall KC experience

This weekend in Kansas City, we learned about child welfare, and of course, served the local communities. On Friday, we went to Holy Cross (a lower income grade school) and had the opportunity to spend time with the children. Before hanging with the kiddos, we helped the employees by moving some furniture around. With twelve people, the task was done in no time, but I could tell the teachers really appreciated that. Some of the kids stayed inside to read, but most went outside to play. I went outside and at first, felt awkward because most of the kids were already playing with their friends, but as soon as they saw us, they were very eager to include us. We played volleyball, whiffle ball, soccer and hula hooped. It was amazing to see kids being kids and enjoying themselves.

On Saturday, we went to the Ronald McDonald house and prepared meals for around 40 people. With a large enough group, we were able to split up and serve at two different houses. We were able to reach out to some MSU alumni and volunteer with them. It was really special to work with them and talk to them about their college experiences. This night was a lot of indirect service because the families were out and about on their Saturday night, but it was nice to know they could come home after a long day and have a meal prepared for them. We were also able to help clean up around the house, which helped the employees a lot. In the morning, we came back to one of the three houses and served breakfast. We got to serve numerous families and to see the smile on their faces really warmed my heart. Everyone was so appreciative to have a meal ready for them before they started their day.

Overall, it was a great weekend of direct and indirect service. I continue to learn new things from BearBreaks and I appreciate every opportunity I am given. Go bears!

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Bear Breaks KC: Day 2


Yesterday in Kansas City on our immersion trip, our service was for two of the Ronald McDonald houses, Wylie and Cherry. We were joined by a group of alumni and split into the two houses. We prepared a spaghetti dinner with sides and brownies for dessert.

Serving alongside the alum yesterday was an amazing experience! I am so grateful for the opportunity to meet them and hear about their experiences not only at Missouri State but also hearing about where they went after graduating from Missouri State!

We had a few families come during dinner and eat, but the staff assured us that when families come home after a long day at the hospital they are so grateful for a meal in the fridge so they do not have to cook. We also checked off a good amount of chores that help keep the house running smoothly and efficiently.

A lot of the service that we did yesterday was more indirect service, which was a great learning experience! Sometimes we have to remember that even though we don’t see the impact we are making while we are there, in order to serve we have to do what the house needs. The staff and few families we saw were very grateful for our service and I am sure families came in late last night and were appreciative of the food that was available to them.

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Bear Breaks: Kansas City, Day II

On this fine day in Kansas City, our immersion group was given the opportunity to serve dinner at two Ronald McDonald house locations. Having never actually been to a Ronald McDonald house, I had limited knowledge of what the employees would need from us. We walked inside and I was instantly taken back by the generosity that had built this home for families. The Wylie home is one of the new Ronald McDonald branches and provides a warm environment for families.
After getting acclimated to the kitchen, we began preparing brownies and completed household chores. A group member named Mary, noticed a hallway table that held notes of encouragement from past families while exploring the home. Pictures line the walls of children whose lives were impacted by the empathy and love produced by the home. There is redemption everywhere.

A group of Missouri State alumni joined our mission and helped prepare a meal for the residents at the home. The kitchen was alive with the sounds of timers and the running magic dishwasher that’s full cycle was only three minutes. We engaged in conversation with our collegiate ancestors about their education and were inspired by their commitment to service. The public service mission does not leave at graduation.

Once the meal was prepared, we created a buffet line of spaghetti and assorted sides. Most families stay at the hospital until late in the evening and rely on the leftovers packed in the fridge. We cleaned up the mess and hoped that our service would find purpose at just the right time.

I have found friendship within the group of Missouri State students and I have watched as we have all grown together in the act of service. The alumni have been examples of the continuing legacy and our service will remain with those whose needs were met. Go bears.


-Emma J. Sullivan

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Bear Breaks: STL

This is my first Bear Breaks trip and it has been an amazing experience so far. Our group started off as strangers and grew closer during the three-hour car ride from Springfield to St. Louis.

Today our group went to Greenway Greening and Earth Dance to learn more about combating homelessness and hunger. The work that was done during our 9 am – 4 pm service was mainly manual labor. One thing that this group taught me was how to keep a positive attitude at all times, which was incredible. When I was feeling down and tired, they reminded me of the goal at hand and kept me going. At the end, seeing the finished product was rewarding for all because it was accomplished as a team.

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Bear Breaks: KC Day 1

Today on our Bear Breaks trip we visited an after school program located at Holy Cross Catholic School through The Upper Room. The after school program caters to low income families and single parent homes.

I spent the majority of my time floating around groups outside in the yard. I found it hard to push myself into the groups of students playing different sports related games as I am not an athletic person.

I ventured inside where some younger kids has stayed in to read and play games. I ended up reading with a Kindergartner. She was very high energy and so excited to have some one on one attention. She wanted me to read book after book, and I was happy to oblige. Between books she wanted to bounce on the trampoline or bounce the ball. So long as I was watching she was happy.

Overall, I really enjoyed the volunteer service we completed today. Several of us are hoping that we can become pen pals with one of the students in the program and keep in touch with them. I’m super excited to serve with Ronald McDonald house tomorrow!!

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Immersion Trip to Chicago


I’m a one-year-program EMBA student from China. I spent the only spring break I had in an immersion trip other than tourist trip to Miami or California because I wanted to understand more about this country and I wanted to help people wherever I am. I don’t care I wasn’t in many group pictures for sometimes I was the photo taker or sometimes I was busy working. This experience is a treasure to me, through which I got an understanding of poverty in big city and the working system that the society offers help to the hunger and homeless as well as the cherishable friendship with all the members of the group.

After a long drive all the way from Springfield, MO to Chicago, IL, our 14-people group started service vigorously on the second day we settled at HI hostel. St. James Food Pantry in Chicago was our first stop. Cathy, a main staff there, is a kind and devoted lady. She spent about 40 minutes in explaining what was going on in their community and how they were helping the homeless before assigning jobs to us volunteers. According to Cathy, people become homeless for many reasons, such as losing jobs, being disabled, not getting well with their families, having problems like alcohol or drugs. Homeless people may not seem like homeless. Some just go to work without being awared as homeless by their boss. St. James Food Pantry serves 5 neighborhoods and over 200 homeless people. We found a wall pinned up with T-shirts from different volunteer institutes, among which there was also our MSU’s.

My job in the morning was to put 6 cans, including 1 fruit and 1 vegetable at least, into a paper bag which they named Bag No.2 and was standardized by 6 cans, oatmeal, spaghetti, snack, fruits, bread and other diversified foods. Then after scrubbing as required, I helped to prepare cupcakes by putting a couple of them into a small plastic bag. Everyone worked hard and I felt exhausted. During lunch break, Cathy asked each of us to reflect on why you are here, how you helped and what you learned. Everyone took the reflection seriously and was touched by others’ words. We were also overwhelmed by Cathy’s devotion to her career. After that, we regained our energy and passionately served about 44 hunger and/or homeless people who waited in line and then got registered before they got free foods and clothes. I was moved by the genuine smile of Katie, the youngest girl in our group. She’s so sweet and her smile is so pure and I believe she is a real angel in this earthly world.

The next day, we went to learn from the Old Bag Program where the senior ladies told us plastic bags should be reduced and recycled as much as we can to protect the environment and protect animals from eating them and they also taught us how to cut plastic bags into plarns and crochet them into blanket for homeless people to sleep on.

The third place we served was Greater Chicago Food Depository where volunteers helped sort and pack donated foods into small packages. The premise of the Food Depository is located at rural area and the building looks like a pretty big factory. There are 4-5 such big Food Depositories in Chicago and the foods processed are delivered to over 300 small food banks in community, like St. James Food Pantry, all over Chicago. We met 3 other volunteer groups there. Before we got into the food workshop, we were required to put our personal belongings in lockers and scrub and put on caps, gloves, masks and aprons according to their strict policies dealing with foods. Our job that day was to pack pinto beans from huge boxes into small packages 3-pound per bag. We experienced teamwork in factory by different specific jobs, like shoveling, pre-scooping, weighing, labeling, packaging, strapping and delivering. Everyone worked as efficiently as we can and nobody asked for a break during the 3 working hours. We also had fun from such a hard work and communicated with other groups. Finally, the staff there announced we were the most efficient group they had ever seen and we packed 2014 bags in total. What an amazing group we are!

The last day, we served at Benton’s House where 6-7 young college-age people lived and taught younger kids at primary and middle school age there. We helped move bundles and boxes of foods and vegetables from truck into their kitchen and packed up into small bags, and among the foods we surprisingly found the pinto bean bags just like we packed at the Food Depository the day before. Then we helped clean their houses. Another Chinese international student, Stark, and I were asked to help clean a closet in which there was tremendously a mess and the first sight of that, esp. a heap of rat shit which I almost touched by hand, made me depressed. I couldn’t imagine how people could live in such a dirty environment. Stark encouraged me and did the hardest work and quickly well-organized all the items into logic order. At that moment, I felt the light in the closet suddenly became brighter. I was surprised till I learned Stark’s a Math major. When our volunteer hours were over, Collin and Tia remained there and worked 2 more extra hours to help fix their computers.

Later at that night, after group reflection with tears, I met Tia and Isa at lounge. As it was the last night of our trip, I couldn’t help looking answers for the doubts on my mind. Tia and Isa opened their minds and we had a deep talk. From them I learned as much as in the previous 4 days. They helped me to understand what’s poverty, what kind of help’s in need, and how we could do better. Therefore, I understood people in Benton’s House were not living an easy life and they were making their efforts to build a better life of their own and their neighbors.

Addition to understanding and friendship, I’m glad to see that most of the foods Chicago provides to those hunger and homeless people are plant-based foods and diversified by taking nutrition into consideration because that matches my vegetarian value of life, i.e. people don’t have to eat animals to get enough nutrition and the earth has enough foods to feed the whole population of human beings and eliminate hunger only if people choose plant-based foods, which is also more cruelty free and environment friendly by reducing carbon emission.

In the end, I want to thank Darren, Autumn and Ping, our group advisors and leaders. Not only they three always passed their passion to and took good care of everybody, but also they did enormous preparations beyond our knowledge. I didn’t realize how lucky I was until the day we finished our trip and began to write blog. We just know they three have spent a whole year to prepare the one-week immersion trip. Thank to them, our trip was so successful. Thank to them, we built up fantastic friendship.

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Indy Baby 5

As our trip is coming to an end, my mind is calm. To use some of the words people brought up in reflection, I feel very tired but accomplished, anxious but content, and most importantly, full. I believe we all feel very full after this week due to the abundance of knowledge we gained and new experiences we went through as a group. Also, we very much appreciated all of the Hoosier hospitality that was shown to us. Indianapolis is a truly magical place, and is very much underrated for all of the cool things they are doing. I have also never visited a state where the people have so much pride for their home. There is actually a whole new exhibit in the works at the downtown library that will be filled with books only by Indiana authors tailored towards the education and entertainment of children. It didn’t take long at all for me to fall in love with everything about this state and this trip. I fell in love with the state and all of its kindness and passion; I fell in love with learning, especially about how to better sustain this beautiful earth; and I fell in love with eight other people, who, just like myself, have a passion for serving and gaining knowledge, and a desire to help make this world a better place. The bond we all created together is something I could never have predicted, but one that I will hold close to my heart for a long time to come. We were all on the same page when making decisions or changing plans, and we all were great at going with the flow and really working hard when the situation called for it. I felt at home the entire week, and there really isn’t anything I ever felt mad or frustrated about, or anything I would have changed. This was a flawless trip to say the least, and I honestly cannot fathom the extent to which I loved it, but boy I did.

Today was our last day of service, and I think that it was a great way to wrap up everything we have experienced so far. Somehow the order of how our service days played out fell perfectly, because if any two days were switched, this trip would have been a very different experience. This just goes along with my strong belief of things happening for a reason, because our trip leaders really didn’t plan the service days in a certain order, they just happened to fall in line perfectly. I thought today was a good way to wrap everything up because we visited the Indiana Land Trust, which is a plot of land that is protected forever so that no one can ever destroy the natural environment in all of its 60 acres. All we did today was cut some winter creeper, an invasive species, off of trees and applied some herbicide to kill it, and it only lasted a couple of hours. However, it was valuable because our leader, who was so passionate about wildlife and nature, and so eager to answer our questions as well as listen to our stories and thoughts. My favorite thing about her though, was that she didn’t have all the answers. We would ask questions and to some of them she may just respond with “I don’t know,” and then rephrase it to ask us the same thing, causing us to think deeply about these issues we’ve been learning about all week. I have definitely learned that nature is unpredictable, and while we shouldn’t go on destroying all of it, some of the ways we are trying to “preserve” it could very well be just as harmful. This is just a very small tidbit of the topics our leader made us ponder today, and I found it to be very overwhelming yet calming to think about with her and while discussing the matters in reflection with our group.

Another huge part about this trip I really cherished was how it caused me to think about what I am truly passionate about. I learned a lot about myself this trip, too much to discuss here, but I wouldn’t have learned it anywhere else this spring break. The thing that kept creeping into my mind though, was how I can incorporate all of this knowledge I have been gaining into my life right now and my career in the future. What I decided is that I really can incorporate the things related to this trip that I am passionate about in both situations, and I get a little surge of excitement when I think about all of the possibilities for doing just that. I have been questioning whether I am going down the right path in terms of my major lately, but this trip has caused me to think about my major in a different way, and I have realized how I can be excited about it by also being excited about what I love to do on a regular basis.

To wrap everything up, one of our advisers mentioned something that really stuck with me today, and that is to ask yourself, “Why?” This means to really think about your purpose for doing all the things that you do, and I definitely don’t do this enough. Eventually though, I do believe I will find a more solid foundation for the reasons why I do things, and I will feel more complete and more confident in all that I do. What I learned from this is, and to quote a fellow member’s dad, “When you wake up in the morning, have a purpose bigger than yourself.” I think that if more people would do this, it would be astonishing how much we could accomplish as a whole just working together to better this world.

Namaste, friends. I’ll catch you later 🙂


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