School Breaks With a Mission

Time off for students is the perfect time to give back.

Two female students paint a wall of cement blocks blue.

Every semester, hundreds of NYU students use their time off from school to volunteer through the Alternative Breaks (AB) program. They help communities around the world cope with issues such as public health, youth development, and the environment.

Katie Dolcimascolo, a Secondary Education major with a teaching specialization in foreign languages, spent her last two spring breaks in the Dominican Republic, working with local teenagers to construct levees that prevent flooding. She explains, “We traveled to El Cidral, a small rural community near the capital, Santo Domingo, where we worked with Service for Peace, an organization that involves volunteers in community development projects.” AB students have also participated in literacy training in Birmingham, Alabama, and new home construction in Antigua, Guatemala.

A female student shows her iPhone to eight young children.
Students take a look around a construction site.

But Alternative Breaks isn’t just about doing good in remote locations. During the school year, students plan fundraising events and attend meetings related to their chosen area of service. Katie explains, “AB is a special kind of program because of what we do before we ever get on a plane. We try to combat ‘voluntourism,’ where people travel the world doing short-term volunteer work that can sometimes do more harm than good. We have weekly meetings and talk about the privilege we bring when we go to these places. We learn a lot about our communities and the social issues the local people face so that we can be of the most use while we’re there.”

Every AB trip is led by two students who serve as site leaders. Connor Borden, a junior concentrating in urban health and development, was a site leader for a trip to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, last winter. “Our group partnered with an organization called International Volunteer HQ. We prepared food for underserved residents in the Tan Binh District,” he says. “The experience helped broaden my understanding of public health, food justice, and my field of study. Already having some knowledge in these areas helped me enter the community more prepared to go about the work.”

Handmade posters are hung up on a brick wall welcoming newcomers.

But many students say the real benefit of Alternative Breaks is learning how to serve. According to Connor, “My goal is to spend my life working to address the issues that matter most, and while I don’t have a specific plan yet, I know this will mean incorporating service and justice into my personal and professional life.”

YWCA protesters march outside for a rally to eliminate racism and empower women.

Student photographs by Tianxiong Hu, Safwan Akbar, Charles Lee, Samuel Kim, and Aaron Ho.

Leadership for Students

NYU Alternative Breaks

Learn more about the NYU Alternative Breaks program

Getting Involved