Country: United States of America


Volunteering With Alternative Break Programs: 7 Common Questions Answered

November 22, 2012

The term alternative break is a well-known buzzword in the volunteering arena. But what is it exactly? Below are some of the most frequently asked questions answered!

What is an alternative break?Alternative breaks - Volunteer Global

An alternative break is a short volunteer trip (typically seven to 15 days) where volunteers are able to engage in predetermined service projects.

Who goes on alternative breaks?

Typically college or university students looking for an alternative to traditional “party trips” for their fall, winter, spring, and even summer breaks. Alternative breaks are becoming increasingly common with high schools as well.

What are the missions of alternative breaks?

The missions of alternative break trips typically differ from program to program, school to school, and group to group. Because projects are short-term, the projects students participate in often include general assistance and even service learning in the areas of poverty, education, homelessness and refugee resettlement, environment, and reducing threats to vulnerable groups.

In return for their work, students gain a greater understanding of social issues plaguing society in their own country and abroad, as well as a feel for physical labor and difficult living conditions. Students are encouraged to spend free time learning more about their host community and relishing in the diversity it offers.

The goal—aside from serving a population outside of the students’ normal environment—is also to bring social engagement back to their home communities and find ways to volunteer for similar projects in their own backyard.

Why is alternative break volunteering different from regular volunteering?

Through alternative breaks, students travel domestically or abroad in groups to complete projects and return home together with shared experiences and newfound interests, friendships, and awareness. This can be contrasted with many other volunteering abroad opportunities, which are generally performed by solo travelers and not usually sponsored by their school or community.

When did alternative breaks become popular?

Alternative breaks have been around since the 1980s; however, the number of opportunities available for college and high schools students has expanded drastically in recent years. This is due partly to an increase in academic institutions’ focus on service learning and volunteer work as part of the academic experience, as well as increased media attention to areas devastated by natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf region or the earthquake in Haiti.

What are the benefits in participating in an alternative break?Relief center - all about alternative breaks - Volunteer Global

Benefits are the same as engaging in other volunteer projects—increased understanding of a particular social issue, exposure to diversity, training, broadened interests, sense of accomplishment and self-worth, hard work, and much more. Alternative breaks also include educational components that can be related to the students’ field of study or elective interest.

Where are common destinations for alternative break trips?

Destinations for alternative break trips depend on the school or community in which the students are from and the missions behind their trips. Popular destinations and projects include building houses in Mexico, rebuilding communities in New Orleans and Haiti, children’s health education in urban slums around the world, advocating indigenous rights in Guatemala, serving homeless shelters in the Washington, D.C. metro area, conservation projects in the Grand Canyon, peace-building in post-conflict areas such as Northern Ireland and Rwanda, and city beautification projects all around the world!

If your school and community do not offer alternative break programs, be sure to check out Break Away—a pioneer organization in the alternative break world dedicated to the development of alternative break programs by providing training and organizational support to infant programs. Check it out here:

Sign up with us!

Volunteer Global has recently announced our own brand of alternative breaks as well! Check out our programs in Nicaragua, customizable for college and university students across the U.S. and abroad:

Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.