While some students are fantasizing about the sun and beaches they’ll see over spring break, others are dreaming about the people they’ll help when they participate in an alternative spring break.
“We were listening to students and they said they would love to do mission trips and they were interested in going abroad,” said Rachel Harris, associate director for Student Enrichment and Superior Edge. “Going abroad gives you confidence and it’s a great way to feel good about what you’re doing.”
The Center for Student Enrichment and the International Programs Office have collaborated to give students the chance to go abroad and participate involunteer projects.
Over spring break, 10 students will be going to Belize. They also have plans to host a service trip to Ireland in May and to India over Christmas break.
“You really feel like you are a part of the culture when you’re volunteering,” Harris said. “Sometimes you don’t experience the true culture of a place when you are a tourist. When you volunteer, you get to be immersed in the local customs.”
They are also exploring other possible sites for volunteer trips, like Thailand.
These trips can cost up to $3,000, but Harris said she finds the trips well worth the money spent.
“It is life-changing, in my experience,” Harris said. “You stretch yourself and put yourself out of your comfort zone, which I think is healthy to do. When you challenge yourself, you get the most personal growth.”
Although it’s not the traditional spring break trip to a stereotypical vacation destination, Harris said there are many opportunities to experience the tourist sites in these countries.
The itinerary usually includes about five hours of actual service projects each day, with the rest of the afternoon free for students to do whatever they want.
Then, the weekend before they go home, the students explore the tourist sites the country has to offer.
“We like to call these trips ‘voluntourism,’” Harris said. “You still get that fun spring break feel because we have opportunities to go canoeing through a cave, swimming at the beach and visiting places like the Taj Mahal in India.”
Harris said she’d like everyone to experience a meaningful service trip at least once in their college career.
“Start saving now so that you can go to Ireland in the summer or to India over Christmas break,” Harris said.
Other groups also give students opportunities for an alternative spring break.
“Culturally, you definitely get to know people from different parts of the country or different parts of the world,” said Lydia Stuef, assistant coordinator at the Volunteer Center.
In the past, groups have gone as close as Gwinn and as far away as Belize during spring break.
“When you go somewhere, it’s out of your comfort zone, you can’t just go home,” Stuef said.
Stuef said getting out of your element has the potential to teach a lot.
“If you’re intentional about it and you give everything you have while you’re away volunteering, it becomes a very unique experience,” Stuef said.
Stuef said she volunteers because of her faith and because it is a very rewarding personal experience.
“I love people and I love Jesus very much,” Stuef said. “Money is not the reason for life and volunteering is a great way to give back. It is also an incredible way to build deep meaningful relationships and to connect with people.”
Stuef said volunteers overcome challenges, because they want to be there and are willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.
“Volunteers just love it,” Stuef said. “Sometimes physical challenges crop up and you end up working in a gross area or there’s emotional stress, but the all-around good feeling outweigh those things. People are so grateful when you help them out.”
For more information on volunteer opportunities at NMU, email the Volunteer Center at [email protected]