UM alternative breaks offers nation-wide trips for the first time in two years

After two years of not being able to host the trips, UM Alternative Breaks is bringing back the week-long spring break volunteering experience of a lifetime.

This student-led organization has coordinated five different community service trips around the country that are open to any student applicant interested in diving into a new community.

UMAB advisor, Lindsey Woods, has worked with her executive team to plan trips to Kentucky, Texas, Ohio and New Hampshire, where students will volunteer with organizations focused on social issues of domestic violence, animal welfare, disaster relief, homelessness and refugees.

“What makes alternative break particularly unique is that it’s a fully immersive experience, meaning the students will stay there for a total of five days and be able to really get to know the community, the community partners and really get to engage in meaningful community service throughout the course of their spring break trip,” Woods said.

This program has been established for ten years and has taken students all over the country and throughout Florida as they engage in a variety of social work initiatives.

Junior biochemistry and microbiology and immunology student, Isabella Lopez, works as recruitment chair for the organization drawing on her previous trips to encourage other students to attend.

“It was honestly very enlightening and gave me a lot of gratitude,” Lopez said.

“I feel very thankful I got to go on this trip because I got to actually learn more than I probably would have learned just staying here learning in a classroom. I actually got some real-world experience,” Lopez continued.

Those who participate are paired with a social organization where they volunteer for five days to build relationships with their student group, those in the community they are aiding and leaders of nonprofits.

They also have the opportunity to meet with their groups prior to the trip to ease into forming those relationships.

“I was really amazed by the people I met, whether it’s the peers in my student group or the actual nonprofits themselves,” said co-president Bao Duong, a senior majoring in neuroscience.

Duong met some of her closest friends because of UMAB.

“I’m lucky I met my best friend through it and I’ve gotten amazing experiences out of UMAB,” Duong said.

Some of the most unique aspects of this program lie beyond the actual volunteering and instead are focused on reflection and sustainable living.

Following each service interaction, student site leaders host guided reflection periods where group members are able to compare their experiences and allow for the lessons they learned to sink in.

“We try to be very intentional. It’s a very immersive experience and it’s simple living. So all of the people on the trip, they cook together and they live together in pretty humble commendations,” Duong said.

“Then there is also just this idea of trying to be very reflective about your intention of why you’re doing this and making sure you’re proactive to be very respectful. So whether that’s through discussions, different types of icebreakers or just bonding on the travel itself, you really get to know your trip,” Duong continued.

As a former alternative breaker, Woods can attest to the gravity that one of these immersive trips can hold.

“I can truly say that I know just how transformational an alternative break can be for a college student,” Woods said.

“So many of our previous participants have come back to us and said, I’m changing my major because now I’m really interested in this subject matter and I want to study this. Or they are even more affirmed in their passions and they have now decided that they want to continue volunteering so they want to engage in volunteerism, here in the south Florida community,” Woods continued.

For students interested in attending one of the trips this spring break, the application is available at the following link: bit.ly/umab22. The application will be open until Monday, Feb. 14 at 11:59 p.m.

More information can be found on their Instagram @umalternativebreaks or website.

“I would just definitely say take a chance. I know it might be kind of scary to apply on this trip, but it truly is a trip of a lifetime,” Duong said. “I promise you everyone who goes on a UMAB trip has a story about it and they are proud they went.”