This past spring break, I had the chance to participate and co-lead a group of student volunteers for Suffolk University’s Alternative Spring Break program. This was organized by the school’s S.O.U.L.S. Community Service and Service Learning Center. This year, the S.O.U.L.S. office sent almost a hundred students to 8 different locations around the country to support different causes such as poverty & homelessness, LGBT rights, and environmental issues. The different groups went to places such as Mississippi, Texas, Virginia, Georgia, Denver, and Detroit.

Comprised of 13 student volunteers, 2 student leaders, and 2 faculty members, we all went down to Birmingham, Alabama to work with Habitat for Humanity. We participated in their Collegiate Challenge Program. Throughout the week, we dedicated our time to helping families build their new homes. We put up walls, built porches, painted, cut shingles, and so much more. It was a huge learning experience for all of us. During our work, we also had the privilege of meeting the family that we were building the house for. It was a truly inspirational and powerful moment for all of us volunteers since we had the chance to meet the future owner of the house we helped build.

Aside from working with Habitat, we were also able to enjoy other activities Birmingham had to offer. We were able to visit historical sites around the city such as the Civil Rights Institute and the 16th Street Baptist Church, beautiful parks such as the Botanical Gardens and the Vulcan Park, and good restaurants that offer delicious southern food.

This trip is not like any other. As an international student, I was able to explore a different side of America that cannot be seen anywhere around Boston or in the Northeast. I was able to learn more about their rich culture, long history, and relevant social issues. As a student volunteer, I learned how to build a porch, and properly use power tools. I learned how to become more flexible with living accommodations and working with different types of people. As a co-leader for the trip, I learned how to step out of my comfort zone and own up to more responsibilities. I developed my communication, organizational, and leadership skills. In the span of a week, I was able to make a difference not only in someone else’s life but also my own. I would definitely recommend the Alternative Spring Break program to everyone. It helps build meaningful relationships, experiences, and growth.