The Rising Trend of Alternative Spring Break

The spring break experience has been evolving since the early 60’s. According to Lauren Bohn of Time Magazine, the annual student holiday began with swim coaches bringing their teams to Florida for swim practices. It was not until the mid-80’s that the vacation was brought into the spotlight as a wildly overpopulated binge-drinking party.

However, in the last decade travel and tourism experts have noticed that many students would rather spend their spring break making a considerable difference in the lives of others or embarking on educational adventures. Many students think the traditional spring break is a fun one-time thing, but after that it is more meaningful to engage in some form of service learning.

Alternative spring breaks have become seemingly more popular over the course of the past several years. An alternative break is a trip that consists of a small to medium-sized group of students. The aim of the trips is to actively enhance students’ ability to perform civic engagement and to positively impact the lives of whom they are working with.

This year, for spring break 2017, our university has sent a number of fellow Seahawks to Atlanta, GA and Asheville, NC. These two service learning trips are organized through the Office of Student Leadership and Engagement at UNCW.


Students serve in Atlanta with a non-profit organization called Restoration ATL at the largest shelter in the metropolitan area. The shelter is called the City of Refuge.

Trip experiences include:
  • Service at the City of Refuge (serving meals, crafts and activities with the after school program, and more)
  • Fellowship with City of Refuge residents (meals, karaoke, development activities, and an optional church service)
  • Service in the Atlanta community (serving meals in the community)
  • Exploration of Atlanta attractions (Museum of Human and Civil Rights, Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, and more)
  • Individual and group reflection

Students travelling to Asheville have the opportunity to serve the local community as well.

Trip experiences include:

  • Service with local non-profit organizations
  • Team building and leadership development activities on site (for example: group hike, ropes course)
  • Recreational activities on site (hiking trails, disc golf, athletics courts, and more)
  • Exploration of Asheville attractions
  • Individual and group reflection
Something that comes to mind when hearing about this opportunity for college students is the term Tikkun olam. This is a Hebrew phrase which in translation refers to the repair of the world. Dr. David Weber, an associate professor of Communication Studies at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, strongly advocates for this philosophy. He encourages his students to actively participate in the repairing of the world by way of effective communication, or “managing of mutual responding”.
The reason this phrase comes to mind is because regardless of whether or not you are on an official service learning trip, one can always engage with local communities around them. Even if one chooses to go with friends on a cruise, they have plenty of opportunities to meet with people and learn about their cultures over spring break.
For those who opt to take the traditional spring break trip, what ways could one contribute to the repair of the world? For those who take the alternative break trip, what opportunities come to mind that could positively impact the lives of others? Just remember, regardless of what you choose, know that you can make a difference wherever you go.
To learn about UNCW’s Service Break Trips, go here:
Bohn, Lauren (2009, March). A Brief History of Spring Break. Time. Retrieved from,8599,1888317,00.html