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My Alternative Breaks Experience

I always thought that since I never got to go home during the semester, I would want to spend my breaks at home with my family.  This changed when I got involved with Alternative Breaks. So many people had talked highly of it, and I liked the idea of doing something for the benefit of others, seeing/experiencing new places, and hanging out with new people.  But when the time came for me to end my winter break a week earlier than most people, I started to panic a little. I had been working a lot, making money to make up for how bad I drained my account while I was at school, and I hadn’t done everything I wanted to do while I was home.

I spent my last day at home stress packing, both to move back into school and for my week-long trip. I was going with a group of nine other people to Lynchburg, Virginia to volunteer in a non-profit greenhouse called Lynchburg Grows, operated by volunteers and dedicated owners, to support food insecurity and sustainable agriculture. All I was thinking about at that point was how much money I could make in that week, how much I wanted to stay with my family and friends, and what would happen if I just didn’t go on the trip.

I forced myself to go anyway, and I’m so glad that I did. First of all, I had never been to Virginia before, and both on the way there and on the way back, we went through a few other states and saw cool places/pretty towns/cities, including New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, and West Virginia (of course we sang “Take Me Home, Country Roads” both times we passed through it). It was also amusing to see Virginia get an inch of snow the day we got there.  All of the schools and businesses in the area shut down for the day, and people were sanding the sidewalks before shoveling off the snow. To say the least, seeing this from a New England standpoint was a face palm moment.

All in all, Alternative Breaks was a really good idea, and I recommend it to anyone looking for new experiences, or just something to do over winter or spring break. It’s four or five days of hard work spent volunteering to help out a great cause, and while you may not enjoy everything you do, a lot of it is fun, and you’re working alongside other fun, motivated people who also just want to help others. Not to mention, it’s one of the most satisfactory feelings to finish the work and know that people are extremely grateful for you, as you made their lives so much easier. Some of my work included planting crops, weeding, transplanting crops, harvesting, sifting through compost, washing harvested plants to be bagged up, cleaning/organizing, and just learning a lot about the organization and how greenhouses work. Other groups do things such as work with children in a daycare, help to clean up after natural disasters, or rebuilding homes. No matter what issue you help with, you meet amazing people, gain incredible new experiences, and learn about yourself in the process.

I absolutely loved the feeling of helping people out in a new area for a week, but I loved all of the little things involved as well. The very long car ride was fun because listening to music, talking, dancing, and talking with each other is always a fun time. We went on a group grocery shopping trip to buy whatever food we wanted to cook together for dinner. We had movie nights, game nights, and learned a lot about each other. Every night we had reflections and did an activity at the end. I told my group the most embarrassing story about myself that I don’t ever tell anyone and if that doesn’t tell you how comfortable you can get with a group of people, I don’t know what will. My favorite thing was probably something we did called “Secret Stalker”.  Every night, we’d each draw a random name and we would spend the next day stalking and taking notes on our person, and then share these notes that night during reflection and have people guess the person. It was always hilarious, and interesting to learn things about yourself that you don’t notice (I learned it takes me an average of nine chews per bite of pizza). It was also a really great start to the new semester, as I started the previous week already working hard and I was ready to go, rather than starting out the semester just coming out of vacation mode from home.

Overall, it was an amazing, fulfilling experience, and I plan on doing it again next year. I recommend it to anyone who likes to help others and try new things, and not to mention people who are looking for ways to meet new people and make new friends.

Nicole Ashe

U Maine '22

Nicole is a Vermonter who came to UMaine to experience a different area of New England. She studies business, with the hopes of becoming a manager one day with a side passion in writing, and hopes to one day become an author as well. She enjoys activities such as hiking mountains and skydiving.
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