Spring break has a reputation for being all about the partying, but over recent years has begun to evolve into something more meaningful. While hundreds of thousands of students in the United States flock to beach destinations around North America for a week of excess, why not put your time to good use and give back to people who are in need. Here's how to spend your spring break volunteering.
Why Choose to Volunteer Over Spring Break?
There are so many reasons to spend your spring break volunteering!
- To give back to a community: This is the main reason for volunteering over spring break. You're incredibly privileged just by being a student in the United States, so take advantage of that and give back to those who are less fortunate.
- To meet new people: One of the great things about being a student is getting to hang out with people of different backgrounds. Alternative spring break is perfect for this: you'll meet people from across the country from a whole range of locations, religions, and culture. In a way, it's just like travel! Many people who volunteer over spring break end up leaving with lifelong friends.
- To have your eyes opened: Sure, you meet new people all the time in college, but as I mentioned above, they're mostly from a place of privilege. Try volunteering in a third world country for a week to see how other people live their lives. It'll open your eyes and leave you humbled, and the experience will stay with you for the rest of your life. It's important to leave your circle of friends every so often to have your perceptions of the world challenged.
- It helps you stay on budget: What happens when everyone decides to fly to spring break over the same month? Prices soar! If you're feeling like you're struggling to make ends meet, why not volunteer over spring break? You can search for volunteering opportunities in your town so you won't have to travel far.
- To boost your resume: Your first reason for volunteering should be to help others, but there's no denying that it'll help boost your resume after you graduate. When your future employer sits down to take a look at the potential candidates for a position, seeing that you chose to volunteer rather than party over spring break will help show them what kind of person you are and make them more likely to call you in for an interview.
What Type of Volunteering Can You Do?
The volunteering placement you'll undertake is dependent on many factors: how much time you receive off for spring break, where you live, where you would prefer to travel to, what sort of budget you're working with, and the type of work you'd be willing to undertake.
- Build Homes and Improve Communities: Habitat for Humanity gives students the opportunity to participate in building projects to benefit communities around the world. Through their Habitat's Collegiate Challenge program, you'll be able to easily find a weeklong placement in a city that suits you. During your placement, you'll spend the first couple of days taking part in activities to help you learn more about the community you'll be providing help to, and then the remaining five days are spent working on the build site to help provide accommodation for families in need.
- Help Disaster Zones Begin Their Recovery: Disaster relief is a fantastic way to give back to a struggling community, as long as you vet the organization first. Fortunately, there are sites like Break a Difference, which partner with local non-profits to make sure that the volunteer work you're performing is helping, rather than hindering, the relief efforts.
- Volunteer With Animals: If you love animals, there are no end of opportunities for you to help them out over spring break. In this case, your best bet is to pick one of the sites mentioned in this article and browse the opportunities available when it comes to animals -- there isn't one site dedicated to working with animals over spring break. Alternatively, well-regarded places, such as Elephant Nature Park in Thailand accept week-long placements without you needing to go through a third-party company. One way to find volunteer work with animals is to research sanctuaries in a country you've always wanted to visit. When you find a place that works for you, spend a few hours looking online for reviews and mentions of the sanctuary to check that it's legit.
- Get Involved With Conservation: If you're passionate about the environment, use your spring break to help get involved with the environment. From volunteering in the jungle of Costa Rica to taking advantage of American Hiking Volunteer Vacations to spend a week helping to maintain the trails of American hiking tracks in groups of six to 15. There really is no end of opportunities if you want to get outside and volunteer.
- Volunteer in Indigenous Communities: Global Citizens is a fantastic organization that facilitates travel to indigenous communities to offer help and expertise. You could teach English to children, help clean up the trash and little from the local area, spend a week constructing a new home or school, or even using your journalistic skills to record the locals' stories in order to help preserve their culture.
- Teach English: If you have great English skills, there are tons of opportunities to volunteer overseas in schools. Placements range from one week long and English teachers are in high demand in schools across Central America. I-to-i is a great place to start looking for teaching placements on offer around the world.
- Participate in a Scientific Research Trip: If you're majoring in a science-based topic, this will be especially interesting to you. There are so many exciting opportunities, even if you only have a week to dedicate to the cause. EarthWatch is a great place to start, and you can view their full list of opportunities here. Current options include: studying archaeology in Mongolia; working at a wildlife reserve in Malawi; helping to conserve wildlife in the Amazon; assisting researchers with climate change in Australia; and studying butterflies and bees in the Indian Himalayas.
How Can I Find Volunteer Opportunities?
You've decided you want to rock the alternative spring break: where do you even start?
- See if there are any options at your college: Many colleges in the United States have alternative spring break placements they offer to their students to help boost their resumes. Before you start sifting through the thousands of programs online, see if your school has any recommendations.
- Ask around: Put out a call for recommendations on Facebook or Snapchat and you may find a friend who had a similar experience to the one you're looking for. Personal recommendations are the best because you trust the person you're talking to and they can answer any questions you may have about the experience. It's well worth asking your parents to ask around, too. It's worth doing a little bit of research online about the volunteer company they used, just in case they weren't aware of how ethical they are.
- Don't trust forums online: It's important to thoroughly research the organization you're thinking of working with because the last thing you want to do is spend your spring break causing more harm than good. When it comes to forums, shady companies can quite easily offer recommendations for volunteering organizations, pretending to be students and offering glowing reports. Ways to tell if these reports are legitimate are to look at the poster's history. If this is their only post on the forum it's unlikely to be real report; if their only posts are gushing about the same company, it means they likely work for them.
- Use the resources recommended below: We've gathered a list of the top resources for volunteering over spring break and compiled them throughout this post. Any that weren't mentioned in the article are shared below. These are all legitimate, ethical volunteering organizations and non-profits, so you know you can trust anything you arrange through the sites.
Alternative Spring Break Resources
- Transitions Abroad: Transitions Abroad offers advice on how to plan a successful volunteering trip, especially if you'd like to do so without the help of a third party company -- not all volunteer opportunities need to be organized through another company. On the site, you'll find listings of volunteer opportunities around the world for any length of time.
- Student United Way: Part of the global organization United Way, Student United Way has an alternative spring break program that offers week-long placements around the U.S. to create long-term social change. It's worth checking for placements here while you're researching where you want to go and what you want to do.
- Break Away: Break Away doesn't offer trips for volunteers, but it is a non-profit that vets other organizations to make sure that you don't get screwed over as a volunteer. If you're not sure which company to work with, Break Away has you covered.
- Projects Abroad: Projects Abroad specializes in alternative spring breaks and offers placements that start at a week in duration -- perfect for squeezing into your academic calendar. Browse a list of their current opportunities here.
- Cross-Cultural Solutions: Cross-Cultural Solutions hold themselves accountable to local NGOs in the places where they offer volunteering placements, and an impressive 99% of people who have volunteered with them had a positive experience. With projects ranging from working with children to helping assist those with disabilities, right through to volunteering with the elderly, there's something that'll likely suit you.
- IVPA: The International Volunteer Programs Association has fantastic reviews for helping match volunteers to the perfect program. Head to the website and start by searching for the destination that's top on your list, then browse the potential opportunities that are available to you. As an example, IVPA is linked with GlobalAware Adventures in Service, which offers placements in countries such as Peru or Laos, and they also work with Volunteers for Peace, which can help place you in countries like Honduras or India.
Deciding to spend your spring break volunteering is one of the best decisions you'll ever make. Use the resources above to plan your trip and you'll be guaranteed to have a life-changing experience. Have fun!