Ah, Spring Break. A time when textbooks, cafeteria food and long nights in the library are replaced by tropical beaches, piña coladas and sleeping in to noon, right? Not necessarily. Instead of trading the classroom for a cruise ship, more college students are opting to spend that week of vacation on an Alternative Spring Break, which are volunteer trips organized by colleges, universities, charitable organizations and religious organizations. These trips give students the opportunity to participate in organized charity and relief efforts, and while the experience itself is often rewarding, they also look great on resumes and grad school applications. In the spring of 2006, an estimated 36,000 students across the nation participated in an alternative break experience.
Most colleges offer their own school-sponsored ASBs, so a good place to start searching for opportunities is at your school’s Web site. When trying to decide on a trip, consider the destination's appeal to you, as well as your level of interest in the volunteer project and what it can ultimately do for your long-term goals. If you're considering a career in education, for example, a good ASB match might be tutoring children or teaching English to immigrants, while someone set on medicine might prefer a trip that involves working with the elderly and hospital patients.
Also, ASB can be a good opportunity to travel and get experience abroad. Some projects operate on the international level, and if this is a priority for you, check out Cross Cultural Solutions, which offers programs in Brazil, China, Peru, Russia and Thailand and also handles your lodging, all meals, local transportation and travel medical insurance. Other options include United Planet, which organizes volunteers to help people in need worldwide, and i-to-i, which focuses largely on environmental volunteerism and offers trips to Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala and Honduras.Keep in mind that though these are volunteer projects, most of them still require a fee to participate, and if cost is an issue, that may help pare down your options. Some projects also feature fundraising initiatives, which can help students finance their trips.
Here are some more sites that can help you find the perfect ASB trip:
- United Way
Features U.S. based volunteer efforts, from continuing to rebuild the Gulf Coast after hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike, to addressing the issues plaguing urban America.
- Habitat for Humanity
This organization builds homes for families, and it offers a Collegiate Challenge for groups of five or more students to get involved and visit one of the 250 host affiliates throughout the U.S. Students spend one week working in partnership with the local affiliate, the local community and partner families to help eliminate poverty housing in the area.
- Break Away
Offers many national-level trips, such as tutoring migrant farmworkers in Florida, building homes in Appalachia, registering voters in rural Mississippi and working with the homeless in Washington, D.C.