Spring break is generally considered the time to go on a cruise, go to the beach, or vacation in a trendy location. While those are all fun, this year I decided to do something different: an alternative break. An alternative break is a trip where a small group of college students dedicate a week to volunteer service, often with a focused cause. My specific trip was in North Carolina at an animal sanctuary.
Being with animals for a week sounds fun. However, the sanctuary is almost completely volunteer run, and they need help with a variety of tasks. Over the course of the week I picked up trash on a highway, built and destroyed fences, chopped wood, fed animals, painted a pig house, and even drove a rideable lawn mower. It was a LOT of work and time.
Yet through it all, the people were so incredibly grateful and kind to us. Our service mattered, so it didn’t matter what we were doing. I found myself wishing that I had more time there to really make a difference. I had started to grow close to the group I came with, and now it was almost time to say goodbye.
Daily reflections, a nine-hour car ride from Orlando, and spending almost every moment together can make you close to people in a short period of time. I got to volunteer, but I was able to make new friends. Much like studying abroad, it is an experience you may only get the chance to have in college.
Of course, there were also bad things. Ten people had to take turns showering in two old showers with limited hot water. We had to sleep on air mattresses in a church. Our meals weren’t the most gourmet. It was cold. My shoe went straight into the mud at one point, and I had to borrow a pair of boots from the place we were volunteering at, which can be seen in the picture below.
Yet through it all, we laughed at the bad things and had fun. An alternative spring break isn’t easy, but it is rewarding. It’s an opportunity to give back and make deep connections with people you’ve never met before. Also, I got to hold a lot of animals, as evident by the pictures, which is also pretty cool.
I would strongly recommend everyone try it at least once. There are all different causes, and anyone can find one they like. Many colleges offer it, usually one week over winter break and one week over spring break. My school offers trips across different parts of the county for $250 which includes lodging, food, and transportation. They also have international trips for $550 which includes the same things and airfare.
It is possible for everyone. Even if you can’t afford it; it’s free for the students who coordinate trips. Alternative breaks are an opportunity to grow and learn in a way that only volunteering can teach you. As my Alternative Spring Break shirt said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Other images provided by author.