One example of American University's innovative alternative break trips was a trip to Nepal led by DB Bishwakarma, president of the International Commission for Dalit Rights. Bishwakarma, who has a master's degree in sociology from American University, led a group of seven students for two weeks this past summer to visit Nepalese communities to discuss the rights of the Dalit caste, the "untouchables" of South Asian countries, including Nepal. The students even met with the country's prime minister.
"This trip had a completely comprehensive component of working with the grass-roots community, interacting with activists, meeting with political officials, and then lobbying at an international policy level," Bishwakarma says. "It had a great impact in the community where we provided support and for the individuals who engaged in the trip." He says the group will return this summer, and he hopes there will be more such trips in the future.
At Loyola Marymount, Dennis says that part of the program's mission is to "promote service and cultural exchange on the local, national, and international level." She says, "We send students to places they may not otherwise visit through trips that will inspire them throughout the rest of their lives." For instance, the university sponsors a summer trip to Seoul, where students volunteer at an orphanage and learn about international adoption issues. Some students have gone to Cuernavaca, Mexico, during winter break to work on lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender and gender issues. The students met with women, youth, and indigenous groups, as well as LGBT activists.
While 75 percent of American University's trips and 50 percent of Loyola Marymount's trips involve volunteering overseas, there are many innovative social justice trips taking place closer to home in North and South America. For students interested in volunteering in Central and South America specifically on youth issues, the University of Virginia has a diversity of offerings. Students can work in locales ranging from Costa Rica to Colombia and Brazil to Belize, all focusing primarily on tutoring and working with underprivileged youth and families.
For students who want to work on important domestic issues, the majority of Xavier University's trips take place in the United States. One of the unusual trips the Cincinnati school runs is its annual mystery trip, says Gillian Halusker, a senior who is chair of Xavier's alternative break student club. Each year, students can sign up for a trip wherein they are told the social justice issue they will be working on but will not know where until they leave. This focuses the students' attention entirely on the issue at hand, which this year will be animal rights.
Vanderbilt University also offers a wide variety of domestic trips, all of which are named after songs. On the "Pretty Woman" trip, students work with an organization mentoring young girls in Atlanta; for "I Believe I Can Fly," students go to St. Louis to work with a group that repairs older planes to fly humanitarian aid around the world.
Schools also try to organize trips for students to make a direct impact on their campus communities. Xavier runs a trip to work on inner-city youth education in Cincinnati. Loyola Marymount University offers trips to volunteer and to learn about immigration issues in East Los Angeles. The University of Virginia's alternative spring break program runs a trip to volunteer with an after-school youth program in Charlottesville.
[See our Best Colleges: Service Learning list.]