An alternative fall break can be a great way to change your viewpoint on life on and off campus.
Through volunteering with the Wesley Fellowship, working with Volunteer Emory and serving as the College of William & Mary’s associate director of the Office of Community Engagement, Melody Porter has been on nearly 20 alternative break trips.
“It is a way to sort of get out of yourself and get your nose out of books and into experiential learning.” Porter says. “It’s a way to get more deeply connected to yourself and learn more about your place in the world and how you’re connected to other people. People start seeing through this lens of active citizenship.”
According to Porter, William & Mary has doubled its domestic trips over the past few years and added weekend trips, including an alternative fall break option. Answering increasing student demand for these trips, several other schools have followed suit — either through their own volunteer offices or as a campus chapter of Break Away, a national non-profit group that provides campuses with training and information on how to lead service-learning trips.
Emily Wolfteich, a senior and co-student director for Branch Out regional at William & Mary, has led a national trip to Philadelphia and regional trips to North Carolina and Virginia. She says alternative break leaders use the Active Citizen Continuum to incorporate pre-trip education, orientation and training.
“Alternative breaks gave me a way to define ‘helping people’ and ‘saving the world,’ both lofty and vague goals that have always been a part of my identity but I never knew how to translate into action,” Wolfteich says. “They’ve changed how I can see myself affecting the world — not in a grand, over-the-top way but with purpose and by working with others and by being conscientious about the choices that I make.”
William & Mary offers 12 weekend regional trips over the course of the year, including its fall break trip, which will focus on issues that people with disabilities face. Site leaders choose their own issues of interest and plan their breaks, recruiting up to 10 students to participate on a first-come, first-serve basis. These trips are free of charge for students and are subsidized through the Office of Community Engagement and the Branch Out budget.
Here are two other notable trips being offered across the country this fall:
1. Volunteer Emory: “Thumbin’ Our Way Into South Caroline: Youth Advocacy” (Greenville, S.C.)
As one of five alternative fall break options available to Emory students, this trip is focused on at-risk youth advocacy and forming partnerships with a variety of organizations for underprivileged youth.
According to Emory sophomore Talia Gilbert, students will work with Mill Village Farms to use urban farms to promote holistic community development, Great Outdoor Adventure Trips (GOAT) to take under-resourced and at-risk kids on outdoor adventures and White Horse Academy to work with adolescents struggling with substance abuse as part of a residential treatment program.
“We’re also trying to incorporate some other opportunities like a local music festival throughout the weekend. The idea is to get people exposed to the social justice topic that we chose, which is at-risk youth, but also to experience local culture,” says Amin Addetia, an Emory junior and trip co-leader.
Each fall break trip at Emory takes a maximum of 22 students and costs $75, except for those based in Atlanta. The application is open through Sept. 13.
2. Duke University Women’s Center: “Exploring Immigration & Gender: Creating connections and changing lives …” (Apopka, Fla.)
Through a partnership with the Hope CommUnity Center, Duke students are able to spend time engaged in learning-exchanges with women in the community via family home-stays, tours and talks with community activists, as well as a weekend Women’s Conference in which students and youth from the community both lead and participate in personal reflections and empowerment workshops.
“Students are challenged to see this process as a part of civic participation and a means to becoming an effective agent of change,” says Ada Gregory, the director of the Women’s Center. “They hear the challenges that women face within low-income, immigrant and farmworker communities and see the power that may come from organizing within them.”
The trip includes 10 diverse students chosen through an application process, a student leader who attended the previous year and a staff member from the Women’s Center.
“We found the most effective programs — the ones that engaged students beyond the moment of participation, the ones that students reported as transforming how they saw the world or as inspiring them to study further, to pursue related experiences or to share with their family and peers — were those that immersed students in reflective experiential learning environments,” Gregory says.
“Given the busy schedules of most students, finding the time to engage students over time in these kinds of experiences is difficult,” she says. “Fall breaks provided the opportunity we needed to connect students deeply to communities outside of their own and to provide the space for them to learn, share and grow in the world.”
Gregory says, “I recommend students take advantage of every opportunity to step outside of themselves and to better understand the complexities of the issues they discuss inside the classroom by seeing what happens outside of it. They may find a renewed engagement in their studies, an inspiration for their future purpose and a sense of agency to make a difference through community. Undoubtedly, they will walk away changed by the humble connection to another.”
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