Service trips give global outlook

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October 6, 2009

12:47 AM

Students at the College of William and Mary are dreaming of exotic locales from Kenya to the Dominican Republic as winter and spring break destinations. Yet, these students are looking forward to more than just white beaches and a nice tan — they are hoping to make a positive impact on the global community.

Last week, students who applied for an international service trip discovered whether or not they had passed the lengthy application process, which includes a common application, supplementary questions and an interview with the team leaders of the interviewee’s trip of choice. Each service trip team is led by students and consists of 12 to 20 team members. They take on issues of educational inadequacy, homelessness and lack of medical care in communities in less developed countries, with the hopes of provide sustainable solutions. This year only 50 spots were available for 99 applicants, making the application process highly competitive.

“We [were] looking for the most diverse group of people … people who were involved in service and people who weren’t, because it should be an eye-opening experience,” Wesley Ng ’11, a trip leader for the Global Village Project, said.

According to Soojin Ock ’11, a member of Students Helping Honduras, the international service trips offer students the opportunity to gain a better understanding of the world around them and to use that knowledge to make a positive contribution. Although the deadline for international trips has already passed, there are a number of regional and national trips in which students can get involved.

It may seem incongruous with media representations of wild college spring breaks in Cancun, but many students want to do something different with their time off.

“It’s not just chilling on the couch,” Erin Lutes ’11 of William and Mary Students for Belize Education, said. “Coming into college, I was really hoping I would have the opportunity to do something meaningful.”
This desire to contribute to the community seems paramount for many students on campus. In fact, the College boasts the highest per capita Peace Corps volunteers of any research university. The first international service trip from the College left in 2002, and just seven years later there are nine international service trips and myriad domestic service opportunities.

As a reflection of this growth, the Office of Student Volunteer Services has merged with the Sharpe Community Scholars program to create the Office of Community Engagement and Scholarship, now located on the third floor of Blow Memorial Hall. All international and domestic service trips are united as a part of Branch Alternative Breaks, a department of OCES that aims to create a community of active, educated and concerned individuals contributing to social change.

“We thought it was a good idea to connect [all the service trips] under one umbrella … that way people who go to Belize to teach children can talk to the people who went to South Carolina to teach children … and there is an educational continuity,” Melody Porter, the assistant director of OCES, said.

Porter emphasizes that the international trips only reflect one-third of students who participate in Branch Out; the department also offers national and regional service trips.

“The more trips that there are, the better,” Ng said. “However, if you are that passionate about serving, there is also work to be done here in the United States.”

With the development of OCES, and the increasing number of students hoping to make a positive change, it seems the opportunities for students to give back to their community will continue to grow.

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