Regardless of whether you’re a high school student, a university undergraduate or a family, planning an Alternative Spring Break (ASB) is the perfect opportunity to escape from the predictable trap of the all-inclusive vacation.
1. Choose your own adventure.
While many opt to use their time contributing to a volunteer project, ASBs can take on nearly any form that you can dream up. In addition to volunteering, you can use the week to develop cross-cultural understanding, learn a new skill, build teamwork—or even a combination of any of the above.
2. Hire an organization.
Many organizations offer programs designed specifically for ASBers, while others will build a tailored experience upon request. If you choose to go the latter route, get quotes from at least three organizations before you commit. Ideally, these quotes should include all costs per participant, a detailed explanation of what they will provide (including pre and post-trip support), and a proposed day-by-day itinerary.
3. Recruit a team leader or an appropriate academic advisor.
Similarly, although tour groups or organizations will often provide on-site support staff, groups should consider recruiting an academic advisor. Ideally, this advisor should support pre-project preparation (including fundraising), aid in cross-cultural communication and be comfortable making decisions in emergency situations.
4. Apply for course credit.
Be prepared to coordinate with your selected academic advisor and make sure they’re willing to support your team members in obtaining credit. Often this includes writing a paper or completing a project upon your return.
5. Build realistic expectations.
Try to choose an organization that will build your team’s project into a larger workplan. That way, you can rest assured knowing that although it’s unlikely you’ll see the program from start to finish, your contributions will fit into a larger development framework and support a long-term goals.
Ideas to Get Started
Not sure what you want your Alternative Spring Break to look like? In addition to researching the opportunities that outdoor education centres, sports facilities and museums offer, check out the follow organizations, all of which offer unique pre-planned ASBs:
Canadian Roots Exchange: Although Canadian Roots now offers programs year-round, ASBs is where they got their start. During their February program, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students visit native communities with the goal of opening a dialogue, building relationships and educating youth about First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities. Previous spring breakers have been able to learn from survivors of residential schools, visit birthing centres and attend sessions with addictions counselors.
Operation Groundswell: OG’s Alternative Spring Breaks combine volunteering, education and sight-seeing. Their 2012 ASB “‘Fair’ Trade in Guatemala” itinerary includes two days volunteering with an agricultural cooperative, touring a mine, meeting with activists and climbing a volcano. It’s enough to make your peers in Punta Cana very, very jealous.
Cross-Cultural Solutions: CCS’ Insights’ Abroad program is perfect for the spring breaker. Participants choose their country and start date and are placed according to community needs. The one-week volunteer placements also allow for plenty of free time to explore your new surroundings.