Arts & Culture

UO’s Alternative Breaks program takes students around the world for a little social change

While most students head home for breaks to spend time with their families, a number of University of Oregon students choose to give up their breaks in order to experience something a little more unique.

The Holden Center’s Alternative Breaks program gives students the chance to participate in local communities and international settings to learn about service, leadership and innovation. “Alt Break,” as it is commonly referred to, normally goes on two trips for winter break, five trips in the spring and one trip over the summer.

But calling these breaks “trips” can be misleading. “I prefer the term expedition, journey or voyage undertaken by a group of people with a particular purpose,” explained Eric Boggs, the program director.

“Our purpose is change,” he continued. “We aim for social change through service learning. By partnering with a nonprofit, we can help them continue to make a difference on a very small scale.”

In the past year, about 200 students have been involved in Alt Break and came away with friendships and experiences shared with only those people.

Nakai Corral, a sophomore human physiology major at the UO, participated in the 2013 summer trip to Panama.

“The friendships formed during the process will last a lifetime, even though it was a relatively short trip,” Corral said. “You just don’t forget sleeping in a cot with a mosquito net dropped over your head with 20 other kids your age.”

Whether you embark on one journey with Alt Break or many, your time is well spent.

“Regardless of our struggles with adjusting to a third world country, every member kept a smile on their face and was always available for a conversation.”

Stacer McChesney, the co-site leader, feels very passionate about his experience with Alt Breaks.

“When flipping through any newspaper it can be easy to feel helpless against the daunting issues facing our global community,” McChesney explained. “I sincerely believe that stepping beyond our comfort zones with other people, living and working in communities other than our own – the perspective gained is the first step to improving the human condition.”

Boggs also added, “We aim to change from a group of strangers into a team that supports each other during these intense experiences.”

The lessons and leadership skills that students can take away from this opportunity have shown enormous value for the students involved.

“During the trip, students participate in daily reflections, leadership lessons, evening debriefs and topical discussions,” Boggs said. “It’s a curriculum that promotes self-awareness, global citizenship and leadership through the experiential learning model.”

For students interested, information is available at the The Holden Center.

“Anyone can apply for a trip, which is a fairly straight-forward process,” Boggs said. “We even still have a few spots on our Alt Breaks this spring and summer.”

This spring’s trip will be in Nicaragua, but as Boggs explained, if students have an idea for a destination, their input is important. “Students are integral to our decision making process of where we are going, what we are doing and how we are doing it.”

“The only advice I can give is to just do it,” Corral said. “It was by far the most memorable experience of my entire life and I learned so much about another culture and myself in just one short week.”

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