College students use their spring break to learn about El Paso culture


POSTED: Sunday, March 9, 2014 - 11:00pm

UPDATED: Sunday, March 9, 2014 - 11:16pm

Millions of college students across the country are gearing up for spring break. While many will spend their time off by the pool or partying with friends, one group of students has decided to leave their comfort zone and explore an area unknown to them.

The Houston students will visit El Paso, many for the first time, during an “alternative spring break” trip.

One of the main reasons for the trip is to bridge the cultural gap many of them have with the Borderland.

“There was a fear that perhaps I was putting them in danger. That the bullets are physically flying over on a day to day basis,” said Raúl Reyes, a history professor at Lone Star College in Kingwood, TX.

It's thoughts like this that some of the students and their parents had of El Paso before Reyes brought the group to the area. The goal of this trip is to change the negative mindset.

“They have this perception that people of Mexican heritage are for some reason or another, all violent. That is unfortunate,” he said.

Reyes, and El Paso native, brought nine students with him from the Houston suburb. Most of them have never traveled to West Texas, much less a border town.

“I also didn't realize how close we were to Mexico,” said college student Kaleena Steakle. “I knew it was close, but when you are driving down and someone points out a building and tells you that is Mexico. You are like, ‘no way.’"

Just about the only image they have of El Paso is the violence they hear about on TV.

"At least in Houston, a lot of people say West Texas is kind of a vast nothingness,” said Steakle. “You hear that is dangerous with the border."

To give them a different perspective, the group will be trying authentic Mexican foods, visiting El Paso neighborhoods and the U.S.-Mexico border.

One of the students came on the same trip last year. She said meeting with kids on the other side of the border made the trip worth it.

“It doesn't matter that there was a fence. You didn’t even realize it,” said Michelle Balliet. “All you see is that there is this group of boys and you are playing catch with them. To me, that moved me and touched my heart in such a tremendous way.”

For Reyes, knowing that his students have those special interactions gives him reason to keep bringing them back to the Borderland.

“If I can demonstrate to my students that there is humanity in all of us, and that the world is getting smaller, then I have done my job,” said Reyes.

The group will be in the area until Friday. They also said they can't get over the amazing food we have here in El Paso.

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