Spring break offers volunteering opportunities

    Type “”spring break”” into an Internet search engine and you will find hundreds of matches for sites that offer you the time of your life in warm, tropical locations. Spring break is a week for college students to forget boring lectures, incompetent teaching assistants, impossible midterms and horrendous papers for seven days of fun. It is a time-honored tradition that often involves a beach, a drink and a sexy partner. But while partying in Mexico or Jamaica is what often comes to mind at the thought of spring break, many students are choosing a different path for this treasured week.

    Courtesy of American Jewish World Service

    A group of 10 UCSD students is traveling to El Salvador with the American Jewish World Service on an alternative spring break to help build safe houses in a small village that has been devastated by earthquakes and floods. The group, which is composed of 40 students from UC Berkeley, Stanford University, University of Ohio and UCSD, will go to a small village an hour away from the capital city, San Salvador. Designed to not only be a volunteer opportunity, but also a cultural exchange, students will live and eat with the local families, thus promoting interaction there with the locals.

    American Jewish World Service staffing coordinator Daniel Mikelberg said, “”I’m so excited and proud. It will be a good mix of fun with social action.””

    The trip was organized by the American Jewish World Service and La Coordinadora, an organization in El Salvador that is helping citizens who suffer from the war and natural disasters that have plagued the country. The students will also have a chance to meet and talk to U.S. diplomats to learn about El Salvador’s current political situation and the country as a whole.

    Kenrick Leung
    Guardian

    Eleanor Roosevelt College senior Amy Blumsack, who is the Student Planning Coordinator and will be attending the trip, said, “”When I came back from Israel, I wanted to be involved with the Jewish community, and being an ethnic studies major, I am very interested in the social affairs of third world countries. The trip is the perfect way to take two things I am passionate about and put them together, and make an impact while doing something good. It is giving me an opportunity to do something I care about through a Jewish avenue.””

    Though this is the first year that UCSD has sent volunteers, Mikelberg hopes that it will become an annual event. The trip is being paid for solely by the students, who have been doing an immense amount of fundraising.

    “”Because it’s only the ten of us, and each person has to pay for the trip themselves, everyone has put forth an amazing effort and has done a great job to help with fundraising,”” Blumsack said.

    Although it’s too late to be a part of the El Salvador trip, similar opportunities are still available. Student Travel Agency (STA) offers a package called I-venture. Though designed for a one- to six-month stay in a foreign country to do volunteer work, there are also mini-Ventures, which are two-week programs in 11 countries, including Costa Rica, India, Nepal and South Africa. Students live and work in the chosen town amidst the locals. The mini-Ventures allow for a variety of activities, including conservation in the forest, teaching in a school or doing educational talks.

    On the Bolivia trip, volunteers help maintain the La Paz zoo, the world’s highest altitude zoo. Volunteers feed and care for the animals, construct new habitats and help maintain the facility. The mini-Venture to India directly exposes the volunteers to the culture by having them teach children between the ages of 6 and 16 basic subjects like English, arts and crafts, and music.

    For those of you who want to have an exotic spring break of fun in the sun, but think that its too late to plan a fun-filled week of volunteer work in a tropical place, there are a lot of options.

    STA travel advisor Bobby Hansen said, “”Hawaii, Mexico and Jamaica are the three hottest spring break destinations this year. There are still lots of great deals for the procrastinators.””

    Hawaii and Cabo San Lucas are the cheapest at about $650 for a week, which includes airfare, accommodations, and food and drinks. For those who are short on cash or want to stay closer to home, take advantage of San Diego’s location. Get together with some friends and drive thirty miles to Rosarito. While not Negril or Cancun, Rosarito has the necessary beach, as well as a lively party life, with clubs like Senor Frogs and Papas and Beer. There are four-day packages available for around $200, which are all-inclusive with beachfront accommodations. Check out http://www.rosaritobeachhotel.com for more information.

    There are still many options available for spring break, but STA advises, “”The sooner you start planning, the better.”” Stop by the STA office in the Price Center for more information on the mini-Ventures and other spring break trip opportunities.

    Stop by the by Office of Religious Affairs for details about next year’s trip to El Salvador.

    Top ten trips for traveling abroad over spring break

    1. Make sure you have a signed, valid passport and visas, if required. Also, before you go, fill in the emergency information page of you passport.

    2. Read the Consular Information Sheets (and Public Announcements or Travel Warnings, if applicable) for the countries you plan to visit.

    3. Leave copies of your itinerary, passport data page and visas with family or friends at home, so that you can be contacted in case of an emergency. Keep your host program informed about your whereabouts.

    4. Make sure you have insurance that will cover your emergency medical needs while you are overseas.

    5. Familiarize yourself with local laws and customs of the countries to which you are traveling. Remember, while in a foreign country, you are subject to its laws.

    6. Do not leave your luggage unattended in public areas and never accept packages from strangers.

    7. While abroad, avoid using illicit drugs or drinking excessive amounts of alcoholic beverages, and associating with people who do.

    8. Do not become a target for thieves by wearing conspicuous clothing and expensive jewelry. Do not carry excessive amounts of cash or credit cards.

    9. Deal only with authorized agents when you exchange money to avoid violating local laws.

    10. When overseas, avoid demonstrations and other situations that may become unruly or where anti-American sentiments may be expressed.

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