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NerdScholar Favorites: School-Sponsored Spring Break Trips

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Nearly 40 percent of college students will travel during spring break, with high expectations and equally high budgets. But for students who can’t afford to break the bank, what options are left? Certainly, some students will visit home or enjoy the peace and quiet of their deserted campus. Others might take advantage of the time away from class to work on landing a job or internship. But for those who want to return to campus with spring break stories of their own, school-sponsored trips are exciting, enriching, and, best of all, affordable.

NerdScholar has a compiled a list of our favorite school-sponsored spring break trips that take students on trips across the country. Some are “alternative” spring trips, or those focused on service, while others have a flair for adventure. No matter the type, we imagine that these trips are an unforgettable week off campus.



Rice University – Advocating Women’s Wellness

Each of the Alternative Spring Break (ASB) trips at Rice has three components: pre-trip education, service during the trip, and post-trip reorientation back at Rice and in the Houston community. One of the 2014 trips, “Femalempowerment: Advocating Women’s Wellness,” took students to Washington D.C. to work with Becky’s Fund, a domestic violence non-profit, and the National Research Center for Women and Families, which conducts research to encourage effective programs and policies. Among other projects, the group helped “promote awareness of dating and domestic violence statistics on a college campus and consolidated research on the health impacts of breast implants and specific forms of birth control,” says Connie Wang, student trip co-leader. However, despite this impressive week of service, Wang says that she was most excited about her group’s ideas to bring back their newfound knowledge to the Rice community. Wang adds, “Only through the unique nature of the ASB program could this diverse group of people have come together to realize our potential to be effectors of positive social change.”


Bowdoin CollegeLearning and Living with the Passamaquoddy

During Bowdoin’s trip, students volunteer at the Beatrice Rafferty School on Pleasant Point reservation, home to the Passamaquoddy Native American tribe. The school incorporates Passamaquoddy culture and history into lesson plans, exposing Bowdoin students to “a part of Maine that extends further back than many history books,” says Destiny Guerrero, a 2013 trip participant who will attend again this year. “The students come to know this community as a people and not a myth or a statistic,” Guerrero adds. In addition to helping in the classroom, students interact with community members to better understand the challenges that the Passamaquoddy face as a rural community. “Overall,” Guerrero says, “the students get to see just how far resilience, pride and culture can take a people.”


Whitman CollegeRefugees and Resettlement

Each year Whitman College chooses four themes to guide their weeklong service trips. This year, the college has sponsored a trip focused on refugees and resettlement in Seattle. “The students will spend their time working with refugee children in after-school programs, teaching ESL classes, and preparing apartments for refugee families to rent,” says Abby Juhasz, community service coordinator at Whitman. “When they are not volunteering, the students will be meeting with lawyers and lobbyists representing refugee interests and reflecting on the intersection of their service and their education.” During the trip the students typically stay at local churches and cook their meals communally. Riley Foreman, a service trip intern, says that “getting to spend half of your spring break with your peers while continuing to learn about serious issues through service is a much better alternative to sitting at home.”


Bethel UniversitySankofa Civil Rights Trip

Bethel’s weeklong Sankofa trip tours students through six historic cities in Tennessee and Alabama to delve deeper into the Civil Rights Movement. “Sankofa is a word from the Akan people of Ghana, West Africa, which is part of an expression meaning ‘it is not taboo to go back and fetch what you forgot,’” says Tanden Brekke, trip leader and associate pastor at Bethel. “This means we must go back to our roots in order to move forward.” In addition to visiting significant memorials and museums, students also meet with local leaders and experts to better understand “the role of faith, sacrifice, and commitment that formed the spirit of the civil rights era,” Brekke says. Overall, the trip is challenging, but rewarding, one that helps students “understand the magnitude of injustices in our world and specifically those that have shaped the U.S.,” says student Edwin Gonzalez.


Wake Forest UniversityUrban Community Development

Due to increased demand, the number of service trips at Wake Forest grew from five to ten trips in 2010. Since then, the program has seen considerable development and increased focus on specific social justice issues. This year, one of the trips takes students to Chicago, IL to focus on urban community development among Chicago’s Hispanic population. “We will work with Casa Central, a community center that provides senior citizen programs throughout the day and after-school programs for parents who work long hours,” student leader Camry Wilborn explains. “We will also work with La Posada, a community housing project that gives many Hispanic families a place to go if they are homeless.” At the end of the trip, students are required to reflect upon their experience through group discussion and the Wake Forest blog. Fellow leader Matt Mancusco says, “Reflection is key for the participants to really step back and take in everything they have accomplished and learned throughout the week.”



Clemson UniversityCanoeing in Big Bend National Park

Each spring break Clemson students drive from South Carolina to Texas to canoe the Rio Grande River through the Boquillas Canyons. Led by experienced canoe guides, students paddle through the winding river from one beach campsite to the next, carrying only their food and supplies. While daytime offers desert landscape and blue Texas sky, nights on the Rio Grande are a special sight. The Big Bend area has one of the lowest levels of light pollution in the U.S., making it one of the best spots for stargazing. Robert Taylor, assistant director of outdoor recreation at Clemson, says, “With 1,000 feet canyon walls and miles of open desert between them and the closet town, there are no ‘status updates’ or ‘tweets.’ But there is more than enough time to enjoy the views of the canyon, the flow of the river, and the company of other students.”


Lewis & Clark CollegeCoastal Retreat

For students looking to relieve midterm stress by recharging in the wilderness, Lewis & Clark offers a five-day retreat exploring Oregon’s natural wonders. “Students participating in the spring break coastal retreat stay in yurts [circular tents] on the Oregon coast, visit the Oregon Aquarium and tide pools on the beaches, hike through old growth forests of huge Sitka spruces, and climb some of the tallest coastal dunes in the world,” says Joe Yuska, director of Lewis & Clark’s College Outdoors program. Trip participants also practice yoga each day, to relax their bodies as well as their minds. Last year’s trip photos show students climbing over driftwood, overlooking scenic views, and enjoying an ice cream break. Because the trip is highly active, it also counts as an activity credit toward graduation.


Vanderbilt UniversityRock Climbing and Camping

Vanderbilt’s spring break trip brings students to New River Gorge’s cliffs in West Virginia for four days of intensive rock climbing, in addition to a day of rest. Sponsored by Vanderbilt’s Outdoor Recreation Program, students attempt progressively difficult climbs to challenge them throughout the trip. Matt Scarano, a senior at Vanderbilt who recently completed the trip, says, “We enjoyed days of great climbing, sun, and snowy scenery. In the evenings, we retired to the ‘Paddle House,’ a beautiful modern cabin where the group bonded over Outdoor Recreation staples like shared meals, board games, and good conversation. I am sure that we’ll all be reflecting on the experience for some time to come.” Lee Collette, activities coordinator for the Outdoor Recreation Program, says that his fondest moment was watching a student apply the lesson that she learned in rock climbing—“trust your feet”—to her own life. The student acknowledged that in life “you often have to learn how to trust yourself and deal with the fear and challenge at hand,” says Collette.


Data provided by The Atlantic

Image of students courtesy of Shutterstock.