Max Keogh and other UNC Students in Arizona helping immigrants over Spring Break 2017. (Photo Courtesy of the author)

I am not the only student on campus who continues to receive weekly emails about upcoming “Alternative Break” trips. I continue reading information about these student-led volunteer trips during the Winter and Spring breaks in places around the United States. A lot of people ask why they’re receiving these emails when winter break isn’t for another two months, and spring break itself feels like it’s light years away. These trips remind me of when I was a confused freshman in the fall of 2013 and wondering what exactly these trips were. I remember encountering the posters for ASB trips periodically, not entirely understanding the purpose. I decided that, because of my community service hour obligations, that I would go on one of the trips over spring break 2014.

The trip I decided to go on was in Utah, where we helped and provided assistance to people in need. It was incredible. Signing up for a trip in a different state with a minimal agenda as a first-year student was downright terrifying, but it turned into an incredibly fun road trip with some fellow UNC Bears as soon as we left. We laughed, sang songs and ate a lot of food. And when we arrived in Utah, we spent a week helping people who needed it. This trip was the catalyst for all the volunteer work I do now, and in the process, I made two very good friends who I still talk to. I fell in love with the Alternative Break program and will be attending my fifth Alternative Break trip next semester. Each trip I have observed other students acquire the same feelings about community activism as myself. Diving deeply into unknown territory and expanding my wings into a new location taught me a lot about myself as well as how to advocate for other students at UNC and friends residing in the Greeley community.

I’m writing this because I want to share my experiences with the program, and how it changed my perspective on life. Because of ASB, I’ve been given the opportunity to work alongside organizations and encounter new experiences I would never have before. In addition to experiencing Native American culture, I have worked with animal rehabilitation centers (in Utah) and was given the opportunity to meet with migrants crossing into the United States through the Sonoran Desert (in Arizona). I have students in the elementary school I’m interning at who identify as Native American or who come from migrant families and assisted their parents into entering this country through the same dangerous conditions I observed last March. Because one of my good friends also came to the United States through the Sonoran Desert, I was able to use the knowledge gained from ASB as a way to connect with people I know in the Greeley community. Sharing the same epiphany of transferring our knowledge of volunteer work and community activism with the other program participants was absolutely incredible.

I realize that many of my fellow bears, especially freshmen, continue to be apprehensive when they see the ASB emails and posters, same as I did my freshman year. Because these small trips had such a huge impact on my life, I want to encourage my fellow bears to step outside of their comfort zones and attend one of the trips appealing to their interests. This year the program will be sending students on trips exploring an elementary school science camp, immigration, hurricane relief, animal rehabilitation/facilitation and homelessness. Taking a leap into the unknown in 2014 was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and I encourage every one of you to do the same.

Editor’s Note: Max Keogh is the student director for Alternative Breaks at UNC. You can reach him at [email protected] if you are interested in one of these trips.

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