Alternative spring breaks foster growth in students


By Matt Pasquini

Imagine being thrown into a completely unfamiliar situation. You’re tasked with doing work you never imagined yourself doing, you find yourself in an environment that you believed existed only on television and you’re initially paired with a group of people you thought you knew — but don’t know at all.

You eventually fall in love with the work you are doing, the reality of being in paradise finally sinks in and you quickly learn the group you were with will remain by your side for at least the remainder of your college experience — probably longer.

Last week, I had the opportunity to experience just that.

I spent the best week of my life on an alternative spring break trip with 44 other brothers of the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity, restoring and preserving Big Munson Island — one of the islands in the Florida Keys.

I camped — something I had never done before — on the island, without any electricity, running water, mobile access or Internet connection. 

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We had the option to sleep in a sleeping bag under a tent but I opted to sleep under the stars where I was able to clearly see the Milky Way for the first time in my life.

It was a transformational experience, one I will certainly cherish for the rest of my life. 

Furthermore, I created an experience I can talk about in the professional world and share with future employers.

Through my experiences and the experiences of friends who went on other alternative spring breaks, I’m inclined to believe that most of these trips have a similar effect. 

As such, I would encourage students to take advantage of the many alternative spring break trips that are available on campus.

While on Big Munson Island, I worked with the group to prevent the erosion that has been taking place on the beaches. We had to work together to build a layer of rocks and washed up sea grass along the eroding wall to prevent any more sand from washing away into the water. 

Each day, we spent up to eight hours working outside in the sun, making it a very labor-intensive experience.

One unique aspect of alternative spring breaks is that they encourage students to step outside of their comfort zones.

I grew up in the suburbs with the luxury of a roof over my head. I was sheltered from nature and was absorbed in the commercialized material world.

I had been primed to enjoy the luxuries of life, expecting them in any environment I put myself in. 

When I found out that I was going to be completely separated from everything I knew for four days, I was hesitant. But to my surprise, I was quickly absorbed into the breathtaking view of the Atlantic Ocean, and the untouched ecosystem of the island completely altered my view of nature and instilled a greater appreciation for its beauty and delicacy.

Exploration is a key foundation to making the most of your college experience. Taking advantage of opportunities that encourage you to learn more about yourself and working with others, and your surrounding environment will help you grow and better yourself as a person.

During most alternative spring break trips, you’ll find yourself with a group of individuals working on projects you don’t get a chance to work on very often, such as building houses or working on environmental preservation.

Because none of us from my trip had any experience participating in these particular projects or living in the environment we were staying in, we were constantly giving each other a hand and ensuring everyone was able to make the most of their experiences.

If someone was struggling moving rocks to the eroding wall, we’d help them. Since we had to prepare our own food, the people who felt comfortable cooking stepped up for the entire group. Because not everyone knew how to camp or live outdoors, those who did were quick to make sure everyone adapted as easily and smoothly as possible.

I also found that alternative spring break trips also benefit the professional development of participants because they can talk about unique experiences assisting a particular cause during interviews, allowing them to stand out from other potential new-hires.

Working together in such a cohesive manner in unfamiliar environments can show future employers how well you can work with other individuals in new and unfamiliar settings. 

Furthermore, having experiences alone can show them your eagerness to immerse yourself in new situations that will help you expand upon your own human and social capital in the work place.

My alternative spring break trip was invaluable to my personal and professional growth. It provided me an opportunity to learn new things about myself and I strongly believe it would have a similar effect on other students.

Matt is a sophomore in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewPasquini.