Alternative Spring Break

We know it’s difficult to think about spring when winter is right around the corner, but NOW is the time to consider whether to pursue an Alternative Spring Break program (ASB), if you haven’t done so already.  Alternative Spring Break programs provide you with the opportunities to expand your worldview, further develop those foreign language or critical thinking skills you’ve built in the classroom and strengthen your resume by gaining professional experience.


Here are some steps you should take to start your search for the ASB program that is best for you:

  • Talk to your advisor.  He or she may know of ASB opportunities within the academic department of your interest, student clubs or by outside organizations that partner with your school.
  • Contact or stop by your school’s study abroad office and ask them about ASB opportunities
  • Look at your course catalog and see if any language courses you are interested in have a study abroad component.  Some foreign language courses require students to travel with the class during spring break.  Since your course registration for Spring 2013 has passed, this may be something to consider when planning for next Fall or Spring.
  •  Visit your school’s Community Service or Civic Engagement office and ask about spring break service learning projects.
  • Check out student clubs, such as Habitat for Humanity, that go on spring break service learning trips.

Students and Staff share their ASB experiences:

I went on Alliance and Understanding on a trip to the South to explore the partnership between Blacks and Jews during the civil rights era and see the segregation and inequalities that still exist. Going on this trip allowed me to expand on what I learned in my classes, by learning through stories, interactions and observations – something that does not happen in a classroom setting. Going with a group of people I don’t know from different backgrounds helped me meet individuals I might not have otherwise met. Additionally, I was inspired to take what I learned and witnessed to make changes back at Penn and beyond. Brian Stevenson, the director of the Equal Justice Initiative, who defends juveniles tried as adults said in his presentation, “You are more than the worst thing you have ever done.” And that still resonates with me and impacts the way I interact with people. – Mariya Keselman, University of Pennsylvania, SAS Class of 2010

I can’t say that the hard-skills I developed (building osprey habitats, laying radiant heat solar-powered flooring, patching canoes – at a nature conservancy center on the Chesapeake) were directly applicable to my future career, but certainly the soft skills of navigating a foreign environment, working in a team of strangers, being culturally sensitive and forgoing creature comforts like flush toilets and programmable heat  all served me in developing confidence, holding a wider-world view, problem solving and social emotional skills. – Ali Caccavella, Asst. Director of OCRS

While on my winter breaks through my college career, I have participated in a couple of alternative programs. Two of my winter breaks consisted of working as a behavioral health technician at a mental health and rehabilitation facility close to home, enhancing my work experience as well as getting to utilize some of my psychology course content while interacting with the patients. One break I went to Ghana with Penn State’s Global Medical Brigade where I facilitated a clinic like setting contributing to the triage station, public health station, dental stations, and gained exposure in medicine by shadowing physicians, seeing the community members one by one. Both experiences ultimately helped with career exploration. –  Faith Pettyjohn, Penn State University, SAS Class of 2009

The summer before my senior year was spent in Washington DC working as a mentor and swim instructor with the National Youth Sports Program. I had the opportunity to work with inner city youth between the ages of 10 and 16 teaching them the fundamentals of sports, healthy decision making, and teamwork. Having been a member of Howard University’s swim team and a lifeguard, I was invited by one of the graduate assistants in the athletics department to apply for a position with the program. Having competed in a sport where there were few minorities represented and incidents of drowning deaths in communities of color are high, I saw this as an opportunity to not only give back, but teach water safety skills that could potentially save a life. I came away from the experience excited about pursuing additional opportunities to mentor young people and further explore careers in education.  – Jennifer Carroll, Asst Director of OCRS

Here are some helpful websites:

Have you participated or are you hoping to participate this spring in an ASB program? Share your experiences or your plans with us in the comment section! 

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