Groups offer students the chance to travel, volunteer while class is out

Cristobal Matibag

ISU students’ breaks may be months away, but organizations on and off campus are already promoting nontraditional ways to spend them.

The ISU-affiliated Alternative Breaks and the California-based nonprofit International Student Volunteers both offer vacationing students the chance to help those in need. While the groups specialize in different causes and provide for different kinds of travel, they each aim to create a fun and fulfilling volunteer experience.

Helping at home

Alternative Breaks sends students all over the United States to do relief work. This year the group is offering seven spring break trips — five for all students, one for George Washington Carver Scholars and one for members of the greek community.

According to the group’s website, participating students will have to pay about $200 to cover transportation, lodging and food costs. Alternative Breaks will be able to accommodate 10 to 12 students on each one. Those who cannot pay the travel fee all at once can either pay in four installments or request financial assistance from the group directly — it does not want cost to keep anyone from participating.

Coordinators have not picked destinations for all this year’s trips, but past years have seen students go to Arkansas, Kentucky, Ohio, Colorado, Arizona, Texas, Indiana and Minnesota.

Past volunteer groups have met once a week beginning in January of the spring semester, though organizers hope to start meeting with them earlier this academic year.

After completing their training, different groups of volunteers will focus on helping disadvantaged children, the urban and rural poor, Native Americans, the victims of natural disasters, and people trying to clean up the environment.

“For the children’s issues, we’re looking at going to Operation Breakthrough in Kansas City,” said Kristy Carter, Alternative Breaks public relations chairwoman and senior in meteorology. “As for the urban/rural poverty and the environmental, we’re still working on that.”

Carter listed Cincinnati and Indianapolis as possible sites of the urban-poverty-focused trips.

Last spring, Carter joined an Alternative Breaks trip to Eagle Butte, S.D., where she helped inhabitants of a reservation. While there, she and her fellow students led educational activities for schoolchildren and encouraged teens to think about going to college. Carter encourages all students to consider a trip.

“It’s a great way to learn about yourself and different cultures, or even social issues you don’t know much about,” she said.

Applications for the program, available on the Alternative Breaks website, must be turned in no later than 5 p.m. this Friday.

Giving aid abroad

Students looking to serve people outside the United States can apply to join one of the many trips the International Student Volunteers leads each summer and winter.

The nonprofit’s volunteer programs focus on four main causes: community development, wildlife conservation, environmental management and outreach to children. Through these programs, students can travel to Ecuador, Costa Rica, South Africa, the Dominican Republic, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand, among other countries.

While all students volunteer for two weeks, the nature of their work varies according to the needs of their host country.

Conservation-minded students have rescued sea turtle eggs in Costa Rica, harvested grass for cheetah cub bedding in South Africa and maintained Thai habitats for once-captive elephants preparing to return to the wild.

Those focused on community development have renovated houses in the Dominican Republic and run recycling programs in Ecuador.

Students seeking to help children have taught them English in Thailand and helped to build them parks and schools in Romania (Programs in eastern Europe, however, will not be offered this summer.)

People who travel with International Student Volunteers often get to do more than just service. Once they’ve finished volunteering, they can go on optional two-week “adventure tours.” These give students the chance to try activities like white water rafting, ziplining, rappelling down mountains and kayaking.

On some tours, they are able to try more exotic activities. In New Zealand, for example, students can take what are known as black water rafting trips. During these, students descend caves studded with glow worms before floating down an underground river.

While in New Zealand, they can also try “zorbing,” which entails climbing into a transparent, air-cushioned globe and rolling down giant hills.

New Zealander Jeremy Gantley and Australian Shane Grubba, both of whom are recruiters for International Student Volunteers, came to the ISU campus last week. While on campus, they distributed fliers, promoted their organization in classes and presented information to students in the Memorial Union.

When the organization was founded by world traveler Randy Sykes in the 1980s, it offered only cultural-exchange programs for students. It has since expanded its offerings to include volunteer programs.

Grubba spoke of the reasons for the shift as self-evident, saying, “We want to actually make a difference in the world.”

While their work benefits people in their host country, students often experience benefits themselves. A student who had volunteered in the Dominican Republic, Grubba said, had recently told him that the program had made her “feel like the most important person in the world.”

Of course, a place on a globe-spanning, amenity-packed trip like the ones International Student Volunteers offers isn’t cheap.

Grubba and Gantley said prices for the four-week trips ranged from $3,500 to $4,000, not including the cost of flights.

For the two-week program, which includes only volunteering, the price tends to fall between $1,800 and $2000.

Grubba said that while International Student Volunteers may charge more than other programs, it also gives students more support.

“You’re paying more than you would for a lot of programs,” he said. “But you’re getting better treatment.”

Applications and deadlines for submitting them can be found on the International Student Volunteers website.