At the University of Iowa, there is a 3 hour credit course offered in the Spring semester called "Alternative Spring Break". If you are a student at the University of Iowa, you may have heard about it through University emails advertising it, or maybe a friend has participated. If you aren't from the University of Iowa, it's possible your college offers a similar experience.
Alternative Spring Break at the U of Iowa consists of a lecture and discussion that takes place for two hours one night a week. When you apply and if you are admitted, you are carefully placed into a service trip group that reflects your interests and passions. For me, I was placed into The Arts– which happened to be my first choice. Your service trip group is the people you sit with in lecture and have a discussion section with– and will also become some of the best people you get to know while at college, trust me.
I could go on for days about why I recommend participating in an Alternative Spring Break program, but I'm limiting myself to just 11 of the best reasons from my perspective:
1. THREE CREDIT HOURS
Okay, so let's be real. You get three semester hours with this experience. You only have to go to class for half the semester and you have only five assignments, which are all reflection. The rest of your points come from going on the trip and participating. It's an easy grade for a life changing experience.
2. It costs like $80 to go on
It's seriously only $80 to go on a trip to a random city that is within 16 hours of campus. That's it. The University pays for everything else– unless you want to buy random things like souvenirs. Anyways, you can't put a money value on the experience you would have on the trip– IT'S PRICELESS.
3. You meet and get to know beautiful people
The people that are assigned to the same group as you will probably be strangers and will stay strangers up until you leave for the trip. While you are on the trip and literally stuck with those people– that's when you get to know one another. You bond, share stories, create inside jokes, reflect, share your secrets and insecurities with those people– you can quite literally learn everything there is to know about these people. It doesn't matter if you are introverted or extroverted– you develop a love and respect for one another– if you are lucky and have an amazing group of people like I did.
4. You get to go somewhere you may have never been or would ever want to go to
I got to go to Detroit. Honestly, I never had a desire to go to Detroit and did not know much about the city other than what I read in the news. After going on the trip I desperately want to go back. You too could get to go somewhere you may wouldn't want to go either and fall in love with that place. Who knows, you could also get to go somewhere you've always wanted to go.
5. You learn about the history and culture of that city– as well as a societal issue that is important to that city, and all cities in the US.
The class is a service learning class. This means the purpose of the class is to learn about societal issues that impact lives of people in your specific city and cities across the nation. This class would teach you how to be aware of these societal issues and educate you on how to respond and reflect on them. Speaking and learning about societal issues that don't relate to you can be hard, in addition to feeling like you have a proper perspective or right to be speaking about them. This program gives you an opportunity to work on your skills of creating a dialogue and contributing to discussion about societal issues that are impactful and foreign to you. This is VERY important to learn and do in today's society.
6. How to be an active citizen
It is a big thing in college to volunteer. At U of Iowa I know many people volunteer at the University Hospital, which is awesome and amazing that students are dedicating their time a few hours a week to that; however, that isn't being an active citizen. This class will teach you how to be an impactful citizen that can contribute to change for the better in your community by learning the differences between a volunteer, citizen, and active citizen, which is something we should all be aware of.
7. Pushes you out of your comfort zone
Unless you are an extremely extroverted person, going on a trip with 15 strangers to a city you may have never been to is intimidating. Going on this trip will push you out of your comfort zone and challenge you. If you are looking for a way to put yourself out there in your college community, this is a perfect opportunity.
This trip lasts six days, two of those being travel days. Six days of uninterrupted time with a group of people. There is no such thing as "me time" on this trip. The only thing closest to "me time" is when you are showering and sleeping. That's it. The concept can be daunting, but it is one of the best parts of the trip. It forces you to have six days of nonstop talking, interactions, and memories that are being made.
9. The people you meet in your desired city while on the trip
Again, this trip is for service. You serve with nonprofit organizations while on the trip. The people you meet are people that either spend their professional lives or simply volunteer their free time working and serving with nonprofit organizations. The people I was fortunate to have met are easily some of the most beautiful, selfless, creative, passionate and extraordinary people I have ever met. I came back from the trip so determined and inspired to be better and more involved in my community, you could too.
10. (The most important reason) The service work
This is the most rewarding and most impactful part of the trip. Serving with the numerous organizations while on the trip will give you exposure to just how impactful volunteering and serving can be. One of the biggest questions I had while on the trip was "Is what I'm doing even making a difference?" My response to that question since serving is this: Little things add up, especially when in large numbers. My group and I were able to accomplish work in one day that could have taken those organizations multiple days or weeks to complete. Nonprofits are typically run on reliance from volunteers– taking the time to volunteer and learn about their organizations and why they are important to the community was beautiful and inspiring.
11. It will literally change your life.
The Alternative Spring Break program is designed so that you will get out of it what you put in. If you keep an open mind and are willing to participate, I guarantee you will have a positive experience. My trip quite literally changed my life. I was lost before going on my service trip. I had just switched majors and the life plan I thought I had no longer existed. This trip has inspired me to look into pursuing a career in nonprofit work. You too could get something out of the trip you weren't expecting and it could change your life.