Alternative Spring Breaks Combine Service, Learning

Many college students will volunteer for domestic or international organizations this spring break.

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Also, all alternative break trips emphasize including students from diverse backgrounds on the trip. Sarah Collins, a University of Virginia alumna who led six alternative break trips while she was a student, says, "I met people on my alternative break trips from different social circles on campus who I never would have interacted with otherwise, and they are some of my closest friends today." 

Academic Credit

Staying true to the marriage of service and education on these alternative break trips, many colleges allow students to get academic credit for participating on trips. At James Madison University, there are three courses that have a required alternative break component. A social work class travels to Wise County, Va., to work in the rural Appalachian community; an anthropology/social work class travels to the Caribbean island nation of Dominica to work in local communities; and a creative writing class travels to Belize to work on education issues. Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, with a schoolwide mission focusing on faith and service, has a class studying diversity and disaster in which students do restoration work with a ministry group in New Orleans during spring break. American University offers credit in the School of International Service for students who do extra independent work after the alternative break trip. 

Year-Round Service Trips

While the majority of alternative break trips take place during the week of spring break, most schools are beginning to offer winter and summer alternative break trips that last two to three weeks. Other schools are looking to expand their trips to Thanksgiving break as well. Since 2008, James Madison University has been offering several domestic alternative break trips during the student's weeklong Thanksgiving holiday. One group of students assisted in serving at the "Hosea Feed the Hungry and Homeless Thanksgiving Dinner" at Turner Field in Atlanta and cleaned dishes for 20,000 people, says Dusty Kirkau, the school's alternative break coordinator. Vanderbilt University's alternative break adviser says the school is looking into sending Thanksgiving trips as well. 

After these life-changing experiences, students continue to actively work on social justice issues in their own communities, knowing the issues they work on are universal. "These trips are about creating solidarity with a culture and place that's different from their own," Loyola Marymount's Dennis says. "But what students end up finding is how many similarities we have as humans ... it's pretty amazing how similar people are all across the world." 

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