For college students, spring break is often regarded as the light at the end of the tunnel after half a semester of difficult classes and an intense workload. But Elon students have shown that stress relief during spring break can come in many forms. While some head to the beach for a seaside vacation, many decide to use their free time by going on alternative trips sponsored through Elon organizations, with religiously affiliated service trips being a popular choice.
And with the variety of options available, it’s clear that there is no “one size fits all” idea of how to make the most out of the coveted free time spring break offers.
Gratification through service
Sophomore Caitlin Byrne knows that giving back to the community is her preferred way to spend her spring break, since this will be her second year going on a service trip.
As co-chair of Social Action at Elon Hillel, Byrne went on Hillel’s alternative service trip to Los Angeles with Jewish Funds for Justice last year. She will also be going on this year’s trip to Nicaragua in partnership with American Jewish World Service, where the group will be doing manual labor in a rural community.
“I just think (the service trip) is an incredible way to spend my spring break,” Byrne said. “It opened so many doors, and it makes you look at things differently after seeing that amount of poverty and what you can do to help out.”
Byrne said her favorite aspect of the Los Angeles trip was preparing and serving food through L.A. Family Housing, which helps families to transition out of homelessness and poverty. But this year’s trip will be unique, she said, because the group will be completely separated from the rest of the world.
“There’s no cell phone or Internet, and no running water,” Byrne said. “We will immerse ourselves in that environment and put ourselves in the citizens’ shoes and see how they live. We can learn from them, and they can learn from us.”
Though the main goal is to help make a difference in the global community, the trip also reflects many of Byrne’s religious goals, thus giving the trip more of a spiritual connection to her life.
“A major theme in Judaism is ‘tikkun olam,’ which means healing the world,” she said. “I feel like through our actions we truly are beginning to work towards ‘tikkun olam,’ and it serves as a major goal of the trip.”
Alumna Sarah McKenna, Class of 2011, is also dedicated to using her free time to serve the community. As Peer Ministry Coordinator with Elon’s Catholic Campus Ministry, McKenna is in charge of organizing and leading this year’s domestic service trip to Johns Island, S.C. near Charleston.
“I did this same domestic trip as a junior, and it was my first alternative service trip,” McKenna said. “The trip was amazing and I fell in love with doing service. When I was a senior, I went to Jamaica for the international service trip, and I knew this year I wanted to lead a trip.”
This year’s international trip is to Mexico, where 12 participants will be doing maintenance work at a local orphanage and a school. The domestic trip that McKenna is leading is partnered with Habitat for Humanity, and a group of 10 students will be working on building a house from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.
“We’re pretty exhausted when we’re done, but we can relax on the beach afterward before going to dinner,” McKenna said. “We like this trip because of being so close to the beach, so students can still get some form of a traditional spring break.”
Similar to Byrne, McKenna feels the trip reflects the goals of her organization and her faith because the group can grow in community with other students who have the same type of goals.
“Our main objective is definitely to help students grow in their faith and break out of the Elon bubble to learn about different social issues,” she said. “We grow a lot from helping others.”
Though many students wouldn’t list service as their ideal way to spend their spring break, McKenna is perfectly content with her choice.
“When we sacrifice our spring break, we gain more than we give up, so it’s not really like we’re sacrificing anything,” McKenna said.
Having fun with set goals in mind
Service trips aren’t the only way to spend spring break through an Elon organization.
As Troop Leader of Elon Outdoors’ alternative spring break trip, junior Thomas Berry is working on combining the co-curricular interests of students with all the fun of a traditional spring break.
The group of eight students will be going to Disney World, as well as visiting Charleston, S.C. and Little Talbot Island, Fla. near Jacksonville, giving participants a wide variety of experiences.
“I feel like the trip is the best of all the worlds,” Berry said. “We’re going to the beach for a few days, we go to the city for a few days, and then there’s Disney World on top of that, so it’s not your typical spring break.”
But the trip will still be incorporating the fundamental values of Elon Outdoors by having the group camp out every night instead of staying in a house or hotel. This way, the trip will still offer outdoor recreation, but in a fun and low-intensity environment.
“People often get deterred because it seems too intense or they think they can’t participate at the fullest level,” Berry said. “We wanted a trip that would not only intrigue high-intensity outdoor folks, but also the average Elon student, which is why we’re combining the different destinations.”
Like many other Elon-based alternative spring break trips, the Elon Outdoors trip will reflect the principles of the organization by offering students fun with a particular goal in mind.
“We want to get people out of their comfort zone and into the outdoors, and showing people that being outside is something to really enjoy,” Berry said.
Free time spent “traditionally”
For some students, the idea of fun and relaxation on their week off is to take a more traditional spring break approach and head to the beach, or even some place a little more exotic.
Senior Danielle Hatch and a group of about 20 friends will be spending their break in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic at an all-inclusive resort. Hatch said the convenience of the resort and the warm climate seemed like the easiest and most fun option for her last spring break with all of her friends.
“I plan on lying out on the beach or at the pool during the day and going out with friends at night, most likely to the disco or one of the bars on the resort site,” Hatch said. “I don’t really plan on leaving the resort.”
Hatch’s previous spring break destinations include Grand Cayman in the Caribbean, Aspen and a cruise with friends, but this trip will serve as a “last hoorah” before she and her friends graduate.
In regards to spending spring break doing service-related activities, Hatch said she would consider it because she’s aware that Elon has a variety of alternative trip options, but she would prefer to go to on a vacation because she feels the spring break trips aren’t publicized as much.
“I don’t think that either trip is more normal than the other,” she said. “Every student is different and should choose to spend their time off from Elon how they want to.”
McKenna said she went on a more traditional spring break trip to a friend’s beach house in the Outer Banks and she didn’t get much out of the experience, which made her realize that her interest was really in doing service trips.
“It’s different for everyone, but service is something worthwhile that every student should try to do at least once,” McKenna said.
And no matter where a student’s interest lies, both McKenna and Hatch agree that as long as they stay safe, enjoy themselves and make the most of their experience, it doesn’t matter where they go.
“We are at this age where no matter what you do for spring break, it’s better than going home for a week,” McKenna said. “Go explore, do something significant in your adulthood and in your college life.”
[box] What are your spring break plans?
Janice Spearbeck, Junior Destination: Home Goal of spring break: To relax, prepare for the end of the semester and visit family.
Caitlin Tarantiles, Sophomore Destination: My condo in Florida with my mom and friend. Goal of spring break: To relax and get work done.
Kaitlin Henze, Senior Destination: Charleston, S.C. with friends Goal of spring break: To relax and hang out at the beach. [/box]