For most college students, the idea of spring break goes hand-in-hand with sun, sand and a whole lot of skin. But for others, a break from class means rolling up your sleeves and getting involved.
Student activism and volunteerism are hardly new concepts, but now more than ever, students are forgoing the revelry of traditional spring-break hot spots and finding deeper gratification in helping others. MTV News spent this spring break with students from all over the country as they traveled the globe helping those in need. From the Katrina-battered Gulf Coast to the impoverished villages of South Africa, their journeys were moving and their actions inspiring.
So who are these students who gave up the biggest party of the year and chose instead to spend spring break working?
Helping Florida's Homeless
Over 19 years ago, the original Alternative Spring Break program was created at Nashville's Vanderbilt University. Almost two decades later, the program thrives. Just ask Walter, a freshman who, along with 12 fellow students, spent his break working the Arthur House homeless shelter in central Florida. Walter's no stranger to the shelter: He worked there throughout his high school years, amassing a slew of community awards (and, more importantly, rich personal experience). Walter brought the needs of Arthur House to the attention of Vanderbilt's Alternative Spring Break program and found himself serving as the program's first-ever freshman site leader.
The Equality Ride
They've encountered hate speech, harassment and vandalism, but the students behind this year's Equality Ride remain committed to their mission: addressing religious and military universities that bar gay and lesbian students. They set out on March 9, determined to visit campuses from Virginia to California and back again, hitting conservative schools like Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, Oral Roberts University and Brigham Young University. The aim is to open doors for gay, lesbian and transgender students, a cause that has inspired 30 dedicated young people to devote their spring break to life on a bus logging thousands of miles. They stage campus vigils, Bible studies, class discussions, community forums and press conferences along the way. But will they make any headway? For those involved, the chance to change some minds is easily worth the effort.
"If you have time off from school and you choose to go on vacation and go home and hang out for a bit, you're not going to remember what you did during those days," Equality Ride director Jacob Reitan said. "But if you choose to get involved, I promise you you'll remember for the rest of your life what you did during those days."
An Alternative To Partying
College students skip the beach and get more out of spring break, helping the needy, fighting for issues and making a difference in South Africa, Costa Rica and across the U.S.
For people who look at shoes as accessories, it's hard to imagine a life where they are a desperately needed necessity. That's why a group of African-studies students at San Diego State University spent the early part of their year staging a shoe drive for impoverished children in South Africa, and then spent their spring break delivering the results of their efforts. The students headed to Mamma Jackie's Ithuteng House, a shelter for "throw away" kids in Johannesburg, and there they found an experience none of them will likely forget. They met the children at Ithuteng House, handed out shoes to beaming faces and shared songs with their new friends. They also went on safari and later attended a local church service.
"Last spring break I did the Rosarito Beach thing and saw the Game perform and it was fun, but this was absolutely an experience that I wish that everybody could go on," SDSU student Chiari said. "It was just absolutely amazing ... really life-altering. It really changes my whole perspective, and many of the people who I have spoken with who were on the trip said that once we get back we want to keep helping these kids and really make a difference in this world. It's made us realize just how much we're just a small person in this huge world and it's not always just us, us, us. We really need to start thinking about others."
Caring For Costa Rica
Costa Rica certainly has the sun and sand required for your standard spring break experience, but for 20-year-old Emerson College student Vanessa, the tiny country's main appeal was a small daycare center in Cartago. There, Vanessa was one of a number of students who worked with local at-risk children through a program called Cross-Cultural Solutions. The program sends volunteers to Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America to work in social services, education and health care — everything from child care to teaching English to working with people affected by HIV/AIDS.
Of course, there was still time for the beach, but that's not what left a lasting impression on Vanessa. "Take a normal kid's spring break where you just party it up in Cancun," she said. "You don't really experience any culture or you're kind of in a tourist bubble. It's not really that helpful to yourself. You can grow so much here just coming for a week on your spring break, and you can change so much as opposed to partying it up with your friends."
Storm Corps Hit The Gulf
Storm Corps, a recent partnership between the United Way and MTV, may be new to the game, but it's managed to garner interest from students around the country. The program selected 100 young volunteers to head down to Biloxi, Mississippi, and Foley, Alabama, to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. While other students spent spring breaks working their way through body shots, these students were gutting uninhabitable homes and helping to rebuild a daycare facility and a center for the deaf. More importantly, though, they brought hope to an area that desperately needs a steady supply of it.
"Hopefully it's everybody's goal here to raise some awareness in our community and among our peers as college students," Adam, a volunteer, said. "I know for myself that this experience is going to have much more substance than doing what I might typically do otherwise. I'm going to leave here with more wisdom, more experience, more awareness, more knowledge, and a better perception of what this country is as a whole. Nothing against the people who chose to go party it up, but I'm going to take from this something far more valuable that I ever would have gotten partying for a week."
To check out blogs from college volunteers, or to find out how your spring break can be a little more positive, check out the Alternative Spring Break area of think.mtv.com.