Alternative Spring Break 2011

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alternative spring break

For many, the words "spring break" instantly create mental images of sandy beaches or snow-covered mountains, laden with college students having fun. For others, it may bring to mind the three D's: dancing, debauchery, and drunkenness. However, there's a growing contingent of students whose thoughts turn to the alternative spring break (ASB), a time for volunteering for various local and worldwide causes.

With spring break 2011 just around the corner, AOL Travel takes a look at the increasingly popular phenomenon of alternative spring break.

The alternative spring break is a form of service learning. The term "service learning" was coined in 1967 and has slowly gained ground in universities, with the underlying idea (note: PDF) that "[s]ervice, combined with learning, adds value to each and transforms both." The Break Away program (discussed later) successfully helped spread this sort of service learning into the realm of the traditional spring break of higher education. Today, the number of college and university students who partake in service learning activities during spring break is arguably higher than ever.

So what is a typical alternative spring break like? Most programs are organized through an educational facility, though some profit and not-for-profit organizations also offer ASB programs. Most focus on pairing students who want to volunteer with pre-existing local and worldwide aid groups. Other ASB programs are grassroots efforts with a focused purpose. The University of Washington's Healthcare Alternative Spring Break - which focuses on rural and underserved clinics in the state - is an example of this sort of specific, localized volunteerism. Most alternative breaks will last between three and seven days, and they vary in cost, depending on if the focus is local or not. The types of activities range widely, from cleaning up rivers and streams, to building new structures in underserved communities.

For many, the opportunity to make a difference in other people's lives through an alternative spring break is life changing. "I met a lot of people who have the same mindset as me," UNC–Chapel Hill public policy major Rumin Sarwar told The Herald-Sun of the school's ASB program APPLES. "It's united by people that realize there's more to life than having fun and gratifying yourself."

Across the U.S. there are numerous alternative spring break programs. As the inspiration for many of them, the independent not-for-profit Break Away works to "train, assist, and connect campuses and communities in promoting quality alternative break programs" around the United States. Their work has helped to spread the creation and utilization of meaningful ASB programs since 1991. Links to all of the universities and colleges currently participating in the "Break Away" alternative spring break program can be found here.

The following are additional examples of alternative spring break programs that are not a part of Break Away. If your alternative spring break 2011 program is NOT listed on the above-linked Break Away website and you'd like it listed in this article, please send me an e-mail with the name of your university, college, or program and a link to your main ASB page. I'll add them to this article if appropriate.

Colleges, Universities, and Educational Institutions:

Boston University
Castleton State College
Dartmouth College
Eckerd College
Georgetown University
Howard University
Hutton Honors College at Indian University
North Carolina State University
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History ASB
University of Central Florida
University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign
University of Illinois at Chicago
University of Memphis
University of Michigan School of Information
University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
University of Texas – Dallas
University of Utah
University of Vermont
University of Virginia
University of Washington's HCASB
Virginia Commonwealth University

Organizations:

Cross-Cultural Solutions ASB
Habitat for Humanity Collegiate Challenge
Projects Abroad ASB
Student Conservation Association ASB
United Planet ASB
United Way ASB

Photo by Derek Springer from Flickr
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