Alternative Break: Travel, Serve, and Get Involved

There’s nothing quite like giving back to the community. But your help’s not just needed in your own neck of the woods. What if you could travel to a part of the world where you could make a tremendous impact for people in need?

Luckily, you can. Through the Service Learning and Career Development’s Alternative Break program, students can join a student-led team and travel to another country to volunteer with local communities in need.

Students who joined in on this upcoming Winter break would have the opportunity to either volunteer at an animal rescue center in Peru, work with at-risk youth in Costa Rica, or help teach English to willing students in Thailand. There’s, of course, trips throughout the year, but applications start early to give everyone time to jump in.

Why Alternative Break?

Beyond traveling to various locales, why apply? “I think everyone one should go,” said WOU alumna Keri Jones. She served as an advisor on this past spring break’s Reno trip, a role which involved making sure her team was able to make it to Reno with little worry and serving alongside her students. 

Students volunteering with food insecure children in Reno, Nevada.

Jones recommended Alternative Break trips highly. “There are very few times in our life where we can put our busy schedules aside and dedicate a week’s worth of time to serving others. I think the opportunity to be exposed to diversity and marginalized communities is priceless for whatever career you are going into.” 

Students can either apply as team members or, if they’re prepared for the responsibility the role requires, they can shoot for a role as a team leader. Team leaders are responsible for planning the trip and coordinating with all the local organizations that the team may work with throughout their travels. It’s a role that requires a lot of flexibility and patience but it can be an incredibly rewarding experience.

Getting involved

But let’s start from the beginning. First, in order to get involved, students have to apply. If you’d like to get involved with one of the three Alternative Break trips available this winter, you have until noon on April 10 to apply. You’ll need separate applications for each trip if you’re applying to more than one. But this is far from the final step. Students will need to interview if they pass this step.

Students on Spring’s Nicaragua trip worked with Deaf students at a school for children with special needs.

Annie Friedman, an advisor who served on the Reno trip, emphasizes that students should take care when applying. “Make sure you really want to engage in the work and are in it for the right reasons. Answer the application questions honestly and same with the interview questions. Be yourself because they want to see your perspective and who you’ll be on the trip to make sure it’s a good fit for everyone.” 

And don’t worry too much if you’ve never even traveled outside of your hometown before. For many students, Alternative Break is their first real travel experience.

What the Alternative Break team is looking for is less so how worldly you are and more so how open you are to new experiences. Billie Puyear, San Jose advisor, urges students to consider the program if they’d like to better understand “how you respond when you are away from home, how you work with others and how to be flexible in sometimes difficult or stressful moments.” 

And that brings us to our next point. What happens after you’ve been selected and you’re ready to, well, go?

Getting ready to go

Students should keep in mind that “Going on these types of trips is a large time commitment. Students need to devote large amounts of time to meetings, fundraising, and group activities before the trips actually take place,” says Horalia Rangel, who also advised students in San Jose. 

You’ll regularly meet with your team to figure out the trip logistics and learn about the country or state you’re traveling too. Then, you’ll work to fund-raise over the next few months. Fundraising can be anything from car washes to can collecting. Like your actual service trip, fundraising must be a team effort, with everyone giving input on what to do.

Students in Ecuador helped with conservation efforts.

And then comes the adventure itself, the kind of experience that only comes once in a lifetime. No matter whether you’re helping underprivileged youth in Costa Rica or at a home for orphaned youth in Jamaica, Alternative Break trips have so much to offer students who get involved.

But the best part about the trip? Making new friends and getting involved with amazing experiences.

Want to get involved? Check out the SLCD’s Alternative Break page to find out more about upcoming trips and how to apply.

2 comments on “Alternative Break: Travel, Serve, and Get Involved”

  1. Very Nice. Every student should take some time out to serve and give back to the world. I had a chance of volunteering for a teenage pregnancy awareness campaign in Africa. I must say this was one of the most satisfying things I have ever done in my life.

  2. The Alternative Break programme sound amazing! Thanks so much for sharing this. It’s great to see initiatives like this which have such an important impact on countries in need. It’s also mutually beneficial, students get to open up their perspectives a bit too, and learn about different cultures. I noticed that one of the options is to go and teach English in Thailand, which is fantastic. Any of the students who choose this option will love it, and will not want to leave. There are so many well-paid English teaching jobs in Thailand for University graduates too. The country has a very active campaign to encourage foreign English speakers to apply for teaching posts. If anyone would like to get some more information on this amazing opportunity, check out

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