New Students Find ESCAPE
Published: Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 02:10
Amid the bustle of college life, the ESCAPE First-Year Experience has given students the opportunity to leave campus, take a break and reflect on their experiences.
Run by the Office of Campus Ministry, the retreat was created to uphold the Jesuit ideals of spirituality and reflection.
The Class of 1990 proposed the idea for ESCAPE after realizing it regretted the lack of reflective experiences during its first year at Georgetown. Arthur Calcagnini (C ’54) endowed the program with $1.5 million to enhance Georgetown’s Catholic and Jesuit mission in 1990.
Now in its 22nd year, ESCAPE has evolved into a 27-hour spiritual, but nondenominational, overnight experience that offers freshmen, transfer and international students the opportunity to make new friends and leave the District for Shepherd’s Spring Outdoor Ministry Center, a retreat center in Sharpsburg, Md.
“We’re very rooted in the Jesuit tradition of reflection and introspection, but we’re open to people of any faith and tradition or no faith and tradition,” Sean Huang (COL ’14), one of this year’s ESCAPE student program coordinators, said of the program’s mission. “While we’re not exactly secular because we use Ignatius values of reflection, we design the program to accommodate all students.”
ESCAPE Director Bridget Sherry said the issues explored during the retreat are as important to today’s freshmen as they were in 1990.
“The model on which ESCAPE is built is one that has really stood the test of time,” Sherry said. “I think that speaks to the questions that [students] are wrestling with at this point in their [lives]: ‘What do I want to do with my life? What makes me happy?’ and ‘What brings meaning to my life?’ We see ESCAPE as an introduction to the path of reflection.”
ESCAPE offers 12 retreats throughout the year, each of which comprises about 15 to 30 participants and 13 upperclassmen team leaders.
The 2012-2013 ESCAPE team is composed of 39 sophomore, junior and senior leaders, who apply for the position after the last retreat in February and remain on staff for one year.
Many leaders are returning ESCAPE participants who wanted to give back to the program.
“Georgetown wasn’t a place that I automatically fell in love with,” Magdalena Buczek (COL ’13), an ESCAPE student program coordinator, said. “What I found beautiful about ESCAPE was that everyone’s walls and guards just go down, and you realize that other people are feeling the same way that you are. I can say right now … that I love [the school]. The program has given me a lot, and I felt very passionate about giving back.”
Team leaders and faculty speakers lead talks that are central to each retreat. Three student leaders give speeches about their pre-college, freshman year and senior year experiences, and one faculty member typically shares insights about life after college.
After the speeches, students separate into smaller, hour-long discussions to share personal stories.
“It was such a relief to learn that everyone is going through the same things I am and that everything will all work out in the end,” Kylie Mohr (COL ’16) said of her experience on ESCAPE’s September retreat. “I learned that, surprisingly enough, college is a time to be selfish and a time to find what works for you, to stay true to yourself, to love yourself and to put yourself first.”
Faculty speakers, such as Fr. Patrick Conroy, S.J., related to Mohr on a personal level.
“Two nuggets of advice that Father Pat told me on ESCAPE really stood out,” she said. “Don’t be afraid, and keep people in your life that make you feel alive.”
Sherry also commented on the effectiveness of adult speakers.
“As a Jesuit institution, we hope that students come in tune to the values and the principles of what they want to do in life,” Sherry said. “Because the questions ‘What do I want to do with my life?’ and ‘What do I do if I encounter setbacks or failures?’ … don’t go away after college.”
ESCAPE is in the midst of undergoing a major expansion.
The program is now in its third year at Georgetown’s campus in Qatar, where coordinators seek to promote its Jesuit values overseas.
Sherry, who traveled to Qatar three years ago to train the new staff, remarked on the programs’ similarities.
“There are different customs that have to be abided by,” Sherry said, “but we can see in the Qatar program how ESCAPE is translating to a very different cultural and religious context and thriving.”
The program will also be moving to a new permanent home next year, a contemplative center in Bluemont, Va., endowed by Arthur and Nancy Calcagnini.
“It will be here, in the Calcagnini Contemplative Center, where the members of our community [can] seek out our deepest inner truths, discover the best version of ourselves and renew our commitment to our mission,” University President John J. DeGioia said at the center’s ground-breaking ceremony last fall.
For now, retreats at the current center provide participants with a much-needed chance for reflection and relaxation.
“The trip can be summed up into good food, good fun, good company and a chance to reflect on life,” Huang said.