"Over the past few years I have taken part in several domestic, as well as overseas service trips, each affecting me in a different way. In 2013 I traveled to the Dominican Republic through Outreach360 to work with elementary school students in Monte Cristi. In the spring of 2015 I traveled to Guyan Valley, West Virginia through the Appalachian Service Project to serve the community on a building project. This past Spring, I traveled to Costa Rica with a group from NC State through the Alternative Service Break (ASB) program as part of a service learning experience focused on sustainability.
My visit to Costa Rica turned out to be unlike any other service trip I had ever experienced. For starters, I had never traveled with a big group of people that I didn’t know. This was also the first time I went into a trip with almost no expectations. I was in my first year of college, traveling to a country I had never been, with a group of people I had just met – YOLO. There was absolutely no way for me to know how the experience would unfold so I just resolved to let it happen.
At one point during our trip, we were staying at the GlobeAware location in Orosi Valley where we would live while we worked on the foundation for a community center 10 minutes away. In the mornings, we would cook breakfast at the villa but at night we would alternate eating our meals in the homes of several local families. The ‘going in with no expectations’ tactic turned out to be the best possible decision, because, had I done so, I know I would have found myself slightly overwhelmed. Immediately, I was struck by the way in which the families welcomed us. They did not hesitate to open their homes and share their lives with a bunch of college students who couldn’t even speak their language. Clearly, receiving us into their homes and cooking us meals was a highlight of their week. I realized then that the simple lives they led were so full of happiness and contentment, which caused me to wonder how much I was really “giving” to them.
It turns out that I couldn’t give any more than what I already had. Myself. My time, my attentions, my efforts. I couldn’t help, but I could serve, and I have learned that there is a big difference. I thought that maybe I would make a difference by merely going there and digging in the dirt to lay the foundation for their building project. It is easy to think that you can go somewhere for a week and make a difference in someone else’s life. Maybe you will. But throughout my life, I have come to the realization that it is not the act of going on a service trip that will put even a small dent in the problems this world faces. It is a life dedicated to the service of others that can enhance the value put on public service, civic engagement, and service-learning and one that can transform a life of complacency into one of action.
This kind of experience showed me that no matter how much I think I have to give, I will always receive immeasurably more in return. It is so important to expose yourself to all kinds of people in all different walks of life through traveling, but especially by serving simultaneously. I would not trade this experience for any vacation I could have taken in its place. I would encourage anyone to seriously consider embarking on an Alternative Service Break to discover the world in a completely new and life changing way; a way in which you can learn about others but also about yourself in the process.
A life defined by the giving of oneself, fully and completely, to the service of others, is the kind of life that I want to live. My alternative service break was the first step that led me to this realization. I haven’t yet found anything in life quite like the fulfillment I feel when I serve, but I’ll be sure to let you know if I do."
NC State - Alternative Service Break @ NCSU