With each coming year, Alternative Break programs are becoming the hot option for students looking to make the most out of their winter or spring vacations. This year, an increase in student interest caused student coordinators to plan 13 trips, including a new destination in India.
The program has evolved from offering eight trips in 2009 as interest has increased. Last year, the volunteer center received a total of 269 applications for approximately 225 available spots.
The center expects an even greater level of interest this year.
“We’ve grown in the number of trips and in the amount of student interest every year,” said Kate Johnson, the graduate assistant for the Alternative Break programs. “Student coordinators have really become the advocates for the focus of their trip and inspire their participants.”
The specific focuses of the trips range from hunger and homelessness to juvenile reform. Each program is planned by student coordinators for their peers.
“It’s a great opportunity because they learn,” said Joenique Rose, program manager for Alternative Breaks and Community Partners. “They’ve grown, and they show leadership qualities and skills they’ve built on their trip and then they’re able to bring it back again for their fellow peers here at USC.”
The most recent addition, a two-week winter break trip to India, is the brainchild of Alternative Break student coordinator Molly Barnes, a senior majoring in fine arts who has been volunteering in India since she was 17.
“I was visiting an art exhibit at the Skirball Museum [in Los Angeles] showcasing violence and domestic abuse, health issues and sex trafficking in different countries,” Barnes said. “I was looking at the content of the exhibit at USC and wondered, ‘Why not have a trip to India?’”
Students participating in Barnes’ program will volunteer in the 3,000-population community of Banjara Basti where they will introduce a new financial literacy program to help locals living in poverty.
As part of the trip, students will not only give their services to the Banjara Basti community, but will also immerse themselves in Hindi culture during their travels. Participants will live with a family on a village farm, as well as take cooking classes, yoga and dressing workshops and visit iconic destinations, including the Taj Mahal.
“The trip’s focus is sustainable education because we’re trying to blend a new curriculum for our NGO partners to hopefully create a system to bring in more volunteers, and to keep that relationship going within the slums after we leave,” Barnes said. “I’m really excited because it’s so different and this organization was not thought of until we hosted it so it’s really unique to USC. This is really a self-starter trip.”
Students can fundraise to lower the cost of the all-inclusive package, which includes food, lodging, airfare and excursions. Though every trip has a cost, many students feel the experience is priceless because of the memories and friendships they get out of these trips.
“In Catalina Island, we worked with the USC Wrigley center for environmental sciences and got to go scuba diving and do activities I wouldn’t have done over spring break on my own,” said Kristen Villarreal, a senior majoring in public relations. “It was pretty rewarding to feel like I helped a community during my time off instead of most options for spring break.”
With increasing opportunities to provide more students the chance to travel, students are becoming increasingly attracted to a fun way of giving their service rather than relaxing their two-week vacation away.
“I want to go to Guatemala to work with an elementary school because I really like working with kids and I want to go somewhere I’ve never been before,” said Sarah Schodrof, a junior majoring in acting. “It would be a mini abroad experience for me, since I’m not going abroad, while giving me opportunities for service.”
Johnson hopes that students will take advantage of the program at least once during their time at USC.
“By being a part of this, students are gaining a cultural awareness they may have never had before,” Johnson said. “Our hope and our goal is for students to have this firsthand experience of being an advocate and an agent for change and come back and spread it to others in their community.”
Applications for Alternative Winter Break are due by 5:00 p.m. Friday. Applications for Alternative Spring Break are due by 5:00 p.m. on Oct. 12.