It’s 92 degrees as you lay your towel down and stretch out with a magazine in hand and headphones in tact. The sun beats down as you watch ocean waves lap against the shore and birds glide over your head. With a sigh of satisfaction, you pick up a handful of sand and let it sift through your fingers as you realize you’re not in Michigan anymore.
Then again, you aren’t in Cancun either. Nor Daytona Beach, Panama City or any other spring break hot spot college students flock to every first week of March. Rather than spending every waking moment recuperating from hangovers and maxing out your credit card on souvenirs, you’ve spent the morning helping Spanish-speaking children learn English, clothing the homeless and bottle-feeding paralyzed 25-year-olds half your size. It’s not exactly Margaritaville, but it sure beats having a hangover.
As college students looking to get more out of their spring break experience attempt to discover options beyond Acapulco and Cozumel travel packages, MSU’s Alternative Spring Break program offers students the opportunity to travel and also volunteer their services through a variety of cultural and social issues.
[asb4] “It’s the best of both worlds,” human biology senior and ASB co-chair Karen Pickard said. “You can go to the beach, and at the same time, you’re not going to feel like you wasted a week of your life. You’ll come back and feel good about it.”
Psychology and physiology senior Deana Bacon said she first heard about Alternative Spring Break when she found flyers at the Service Learning Center and liked the idea of both traveling and volunteering. Bacon participated in a trip to San Francisco last year where she volunteered with a number of AIDS agencies including Project Open Hands and the Stop AIDS Foundation.
“I think I had just as much fun as anybody going on a Cancun trip would’ve had,” Bacon said. “I had fun, but I can also think back on it and learn from it.”
Although creative advertising senior Nate Allen said volunteering wasn’t much of a priority in high school, he came to college looking for volunteer opportunities before hearing about ASB through the University Activities Board. Allen volunteered for S.O.M.E. (So Others Might Eat), in Washington D.C. his freshman year, built a nature trail in Tennessee his sophomore year, and led a group to Massachusetts last year where he worked with animals on a farm. Gaining experience in a variety of services, Allen said he couldn’t see how anyone could go into ASB thinking one trip was better than another since every location differed.
[asb7] “All trips are completely different in terms of scope and scale,” Allen said. “In homeless shelters, you see an immediate impact, but you don’t see the immediate impact when you’re working on trails. It would be naive to say one is more worthwhile than another. I think every trip has as much worth as the next.”
This year Allen will return to Tennessee to site lead with zoology junior Dave Dimitrie. Expressing self-satisfaction in regards to the volunteer work he’s done, Allen said academic success couldn’t be compared to how worthwhile he felt after offering his services through Alternative Spring
“In college, you’re working toward the goal of graduating,” he said. “But this was right up in your face. You can look people in the eye, tell them what you’ve done and truly feel like it’s worthwhile. Everybody has four spring breaks during their college years. They should definitely take at least one.”
While Alternative Spring Break has expanded over the years offering 10 trips within the United States and nine sites outside of the country, family and community service senior and Alternative Spring Break co-chair Kelly Snape said there are still spots available for students interested in participating.
“Every trip is great in its own way,” Snape said. “When people come in the office wanting to know more, we ask them what their major is, their interests, and we assign them accordingly.”
For students worried about the cost of their Spring Break experience, Bacon, who is also the ASB fundraising chair, said she wanted to make sure people knew they had the opportunity to fundraise if needed and that she was able to help. While fundraising ideas are still being developed, she said donation letters sent to businesses have contributed a great deal to cutting down on trip cost.
“Someone wrote a donation letter to Meijer and received $250 in return,” she said. “If you’re trip is only $500, that’s half the money right there. If you’re willing to commit yourself to fundraising, then the cost really shouldn’t be a problem.”
Allen said he thought the price of his trips were cheap when he realized how much he benefited from his experiences.
“The low cost is good considering you’re only paying $350 to go anywhere in the country,” Allen said, “but being able to help people is first and foremost the greatest thing.”
[asb8] Hospitality business junior Selene Colmeiro will be participating in Alternative Spring Break for the first time and looks forward to volunteering in San Francisco. After discovering a flyer outside of her math class and attending an information session, she said the program made her think about people less fortunate than her and wanted to help in any way she could.
“As privileged as we are to attend a university, we have to give back in some way to people who aren’t as fortunate as we are,” she said.
Colmeiro, who grew up traveling with her parents, said she was nervous about traveling on her own for the first time. “To be traveling with people I’ve never met before is new to me,” she said. “I really wanted the chance to get out of my comfort zone and do something I wouldn’t normally do.”
“It’s a sense of accomplishment,” Snape said. “On other spring breaks, you come back saying, ‘hey I got a tan and have a headache.’ Alternative Spring Break is something you can only do in college with college kids and come back with 12 new friends.”
While Colmeiro and Snape described anticipation for their March travel plans, Allen encouraged people who are still uncertain about how to spend their spring break to consider participating in an Alternative Spring Break experience.
“For me, it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done,” Allen said.

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