Written by S-L Street Team member Shiko Githere
At first glance, Alternative Spring Break (ASB) trips and Service-Learning seem pretty different. During an ASB trip, one usually leaves the Boston area for another state or country to immerse themselves in volunteer work for one week. Whereas for Service-Learning (S-L), students partner with local organizations for at least one semester on one or several goals outlined by the community partner. However, if one takes a closer look, they can see that the two are not so different after all. Each program offers a range of areas to be involved in from education to environmental conservation to animal rescue and advocacy. They both encourage teamwork and help develop leadership skills. They are both important forms of volunteerism that work to foster long-term partnerships between the University and other communities. They also both stress the importance of Asset Based Community Development (ABCD),which encourages volunteers to ask community partners where they are needed rather than allowing volunteers to assume what the organization needs.
To further reinforce the similarities between ASB and Service-Learning, we spoke to Elizabeth Pier, a second-year Behavioral Neuroscience (BNS) major, Service-Learning Teaching Assistant (S-LTA) and first-time ASB Trip Leader.
What’s your ASB trip, and how will you guys plan to engage with the community?
I’m going on the trip to Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona, and we’re doing trail maintenance. We will be working with and camping with Trail Crew staff who pretty much go from national park to national park. Most of them spend about 6 months in a place, and then move on to somewhere new, which I think is pretty cool. In terms of the community that we’re engaging with, it’s really just those two people and it’s more in nature that we are doing the service work.
Why did you initially decide to go on an ASB trip?
In high school, my junior year and my senior year, I went on a Habitat for Humanity trip during my February vacation. So, volunteer trips have been something that I’ve done. And also, my sister, [during] her freshman year in college, she did a service trip and I was like ‘Ok, so that’s something that still exists in college, so now I know to look for it.’ And so then last year, in our Introduction to BNS class, I remember someone coming in and talking about Alternative Spring Break and I was like ‘Oh my god, it exists! I have to do this.’
Why did you become an ASB leader?
I knew that I had a great time on the last trip and I knew that I wanted to do this again. But I was like, I also know how this trip functions and I’d be very happy to go back again, but I think it would be fun to be in charge of this trip and know all of the ins and outs.
How do you think the trip will help you in your S-L work?
I think that in the sense of being a leader, [my ASB trip] will help me because the class that I TA for Service-Learning is all freshman, but with my team for spring break, a lot of them are older than me, and I think that will be a great new experience.
What leadership skills do plan to work on while on your ASB trip?
I think that there’s a lot more that I can learn from [my trip co-leader],like being more proactive in terms of being like ‘this needs to get done. Let me just do it.,instead of waiting for somebody to tell me to do it. And also, just being more comfortable as a leader. Like sometimes I worry that I’m going to come across as too bossy, and sometimes, I do come across as too bossy in some situations. So, I just really want to work on that.
Why do you think others should go on ASB trips?
I just think that volunteer trips are a good experience in general because you learn how to work in a team, which I think is really important especially in work places. You should not be completely dependent on yourself and I think that ASB is something that helps with that experience. I also think that during spring break is a good time where most people go home anyways, but this is something where you can put your time into doing something good for a community. I also think that a lot of people have preconceived notions that volunteer trips are you going in and saving the community, which is not the case. I think ASB does a good job of preparing us before we go by telling us that that is not who we are, we are not heroes, and we’re not there to rescue someone. We’re there to do what they need us to do. And I think that through different service experiences, you can learn a lot from the people you’re volunteering with, and I think that’s really cool.
What do you hope your trip goers get out of the ASB trip?
I hope that they all feel refreshed after the week. I know it’s nerve wracking going into a week with people that you don’t know. We’re going to be camping and there’s like no shower, so it’s a very unique experience. And I just hope that people feel like they’ve formed special connections with each other, and just take a nice week to reflect on their own lives. I don’t know if they have anything going on in their lives right now, but if stuff is hard right now, it’s always good to take a break and think about life from a bigger picture and realize that a lot of things that stress us out in school are really not things to worry about at all. And sometimes, you just need to step away from it and have a week that’s completely different from your normal life to realize that.
Despite the fact that Service-Learning and ASB are two separate service programs at the University, they both work to achieve the same goals. Both programs strive for students to be able to create strong connections with their peers and the community, to use their experiences in the community to strengthen their intrapersonal and interpersonal skills, and that service will help students to further understand the diverse perspectives and realities others face.