Most people look forward to breaks as a way to relax after a hectic semester. And though it may be nice to unwind by playing Skyrim, there are those who choose to spend their breaks helping others. Alternative break trips are a chance for students to engage in service-related activities, and you can find various programs offered through Binghamton University.
Hillel, a Jewish student organization at BU, will organize two winter break trips this year. One is a trip to Miami with a program called City Year. Students spend a week refurbishing inner city schools and participating in an after school mentoring program along with Jewish students from six other Hillel organizations around the country. And there’s also time for traditional spring break activities, like going to the beach.
“A big part of what Hillel does is social justice work,” said Rabbi Shalom Kantor, the Hillel campus Rabbi. “The trip allows students to gain perspective on their life and their situation while also providing them with a direct connection to their Jewish identity.”
Hillel also organizes a winter trip to Israel, which is sponsored by an organization called the Jewish National Fund, an Israeli charity organization that focuses on infrastructure and land use. On the trip, students learn about the needs of poverty-stricken communities and work on projects like painting community centers and clean-up projects.
Ariel Poser, a senior majoring in bioengineering, went to Israel last year and will return this winter. She recommends the trip to everyone.
“It was one of the most amazing experiences,” Poser said. “I was able to make a personal connection with people in need.”
To escape the frigid Binghamton weather during the spring semester, students can also try alternative spring break trips. Every year, Habitat for Humanity takes 20 students to work on house-building projects for the week. The club plans to venture to Birmingham, Ala. this year.
Joseph Garrant, a sophomore majoring in economics, went on the the trip last year to Rocky Mount, N.C.
“It was a great experience, a unique learning opportunity and a hell of a good time,” he said.
The group spent a week shingling a roof and installing doors and windows. They also took time off to go to the beach, see the sights and spend time in the local community.
“Spending a vacation helping to build a house rather than sleeping in and watching TV for a week was time well spent,” Garrant said.
Through the Center for Civic Engagement, students can also volunteer over spring break. The CCE leads a trip through an organization called Operation Southern Comfort, which sends volunteers from New York to Louisiana to assist in rebuilding homes that were damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Though the CCE is not coordinating the trip like it did last year, it still plans to provide information on the trip.
The main focus of CCE has become a localized spring break which will see students working in the Binghamton community.
Christie Zwahlen, the community engagement coordinator of CCE, said that the shift to more local work comes from the “tremendous need in our own community because of the floods.”
Rabbi Kantor believes that alternative break trips are a meaningful and enjoyable way to spend time off from school.
“These volunteer-related trips are alternatives to the stereotypical Cancun, Miami Beach party scene,” Rabbi Kantor said. “And it’s fun.”