I am not saving the world over spring break, and that’s okay. Come March 16, you will probably find me either catching up on hours at my part-time internship or catching up on “This Is Us” with my mom.
Many of my friends will travel to Mexico to build houses for those in need. Other Tech students have the opportunity to go on an alternative service break or a number of other short-term service activities. While I do admire them for dedicating the one extended break of their semester to compassion on those in need, I also believe that choosing to rest is an equally viable option.
On one hand, there is little evidence that short term service trips truly benefit the people you are going to serve. A lot of literature promotes short term volunteerism for increasing cultural awareness, flexibility, empathy and in some cases, a propensity to volunteer more in the future. All of these traits, while admirable, center more around the people helping then around those being helped.
You may have heard of “the white savior complex,” a self-serving assumption among those from developed nations that other nations need saving. This often leads to foreign volunteers doing work in less sustainable ways, work that could be done through local leadership. Problematic themes include oversimplification of complicated societal dynamics or exploitation through tourism industries.
Is saying the place you visited was “so poor but happy” accurate or empowering to that community? Is buying souvenirs for mere pennies each actually a bargain? Do these interactions instill dignity to others or feed your own ego? I pose these questions not to guilt anyone taking a service trip. The money and time it costs to serve is a sacrifice, and your intentions are very worthy. Through a team effort, lives are capable of transformation, even over just a few days.
If you still feel called to serve over break, consider doing local service. I spent one break serving at an Atlanta homeless shelter packing toiletries. Others I have volunteered tutoring refugees in Clarkston, a few miles outside the city. These are not the most glamourous of occasions. I won’t get to experience another culture or take pictures with my friends in a new city. However, these opportunities help me to give back within the community I live in.
Finally, be sure to remember one often neglected area of service — yourself. Tech semesters can be brutal. Juggling course loads, midterm schedules, extracurriculars and trying to have a social life can leave little time for self-care. And once the break is over, finals season quickly approaches, and registration will already be underway for summer and fall. Perhaps the most productive time spent over break will be doing what needs done to pause, rest and recharge. I see this spring break as the one opportunity I have to recommit to mental health practices. It’s not exciting to hope to get eight hours of sleep, catch up on doctors’ appointments and maybe work out a few times over my one week off. However, this rest will grant me the health to be able to serve my community in the future.
So whether you are spending your break doing construction in Latin America or doing absolutely nothing constructive on your parents’ couch, I hope you find rest and fulfillment during your spring break in the midst of a busy school semester.