Alternative Breaks

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About Alternative Breaks

Alternative Break trips - both Winter and Spring - provide a unique opportunity for students to participate in an intensive public service experience while increasing their understanding of significant social and environmental problems.  Engaged in direct service relating to these problems, students live and work in communities with which they otherwise may have little contact. Being completely immersed in this environment over an extended period of time allows students to internalize their experience, which can serve as a springboard for a lifelong commitment to social change.

Prior to the trips, participants attend weekly pre-service meetings to prepare them for their service experience. These meetings include background and cultural information about the site, educational visits from Bowdoin professors, reading assignments, film viewing, fundraising, and team-building activities. During the trip, students participate in meaningful service activities, daily reflective sessions, and evening group activities. After returning to campus, students work together to educate the larger Bowdoin community about their issue area and experience.

Most trips do have a fee, but need-based financial aid is available to cover up to 80% of trip costs.

Alternative Spring Break 2017-18

How to I participate?  Please see our FAQ.  Online application will be available through FRIDAY, 11/3 (extended due to power outage).  Decisions will be announced in mid-November.

Trip Dates: Saturday, March 10 through Saturday, March 17 for domestic trips.  Sunday, March 11 through Monday, March 19 for Guatemala trip.

About this year's trips:

Health Beyond Hollywood in Los Angeles, CA

Participants will gain a greater understanding of the intersections of health and community in the Los Angeles area. Working with grassroots health agencies, they will observe how cultural competence, marginality, and income inequality contribute to a wide range of health disparities within the Latinx community.  Leaders: Kevin Hernandez '18 and Cindy Rivera '18

Opportunity through Education: Providing Safe Passage in Guatemala City, Guatemala

Participants will work with Safe passage, an organization established around the Guatemala City garbage dump that allows access to education for city’s poorest children. Participants will learn about the social, political, and economic issues that surround access to childhood education in the encompassing area.  Leaders: Jorge Gomez '18 and Dia Su '18

Fields of Opportunity: Food Systems and Rural Communities in Coralville, IA

Students will examine rural food systems and community efforts to promote access to food, healthcare and education.  Engaging with local farms, community action groups, and nonprofits, participants will gain a greater understanding of life in middle America and the solutions being pursued to address challenges facing people in rural communities.  Leaders: Julianna Burke '18 and Nickie Mitch '18

Getting Education Right In 'The City That Reads’, Baltimore, MD

Participants will observe the ways in which education is intertwined with Baltimore’s particular complications and contradictions.  By meeting with a variety of stakeholders and delving into the promises and pitfalls of education as a tool for social justice in an urban environment, participants will develop insight into local and national education politics.  Leaders: Holly Hornbeck '18 and Stephanie Intal '18

Passamaquoddy Community & Education in Pleasant Point, ME
For the Passamaquoddy tribe, education and cultural preservation are powerful forms of resistance to the continued forces of colonization. Participants will learn from educators at Beatrice Rafferty School and the Sipayik Youth & Rec. Center as well as leaders of tribal government, connecting their work to the broader indigenous sovereignty movement.  Leaders: Hanna Baldecchi '18 and Diana Furukawa '18

How Bowdoin AB Works: Student Leadership

Alternative Break trips are organized and led by students who want to provide an intensive learning through service experience. ASB leaders are responsible for all aspects of the alternative spring break trip, including recruiting participants, trip logistics, coordinating with the host site, and leading the actual trip.

Leader Selection
AB proposals and leader applications are reviewed each spring for the following year by a committee of students, faculty, and McKeen Center staff. Those leaders whose trips are selected receive support and training from the McKeen Center to plan and implement their AB trips.

Leaders' Seminar
During the fall semester, ASB leaders participate in the Leaders' Seminar, a 10-week course facilitated by the staff of the McKeen Center. This seminar prepares leaders in how to organize and lead their trips and to help student participants examine the political, social, cultural, and economic aspects of their service and the communities in which they will be living. Through this seminar, leaders develop their own seminar which they lead for their trip participants in the spring.

Alternative Winter Break 2017-18

Info Session: Mon 9/11, 7pm @ McKeen Center Common Room

Trip Dates: Domestic trips: Saturday January 13 through Saturday January 20, 2018.  Vietnam trip: Sunday January 7 through Thursday January 18, 2018.

How do I participate?   The application is now closed.  Decisions will be announced to applicants early October.  Read answers to Frequently Asked Questions about the Vietnam AWB Trip.

About this year's trips:

Immigrant & Refugee Education in Portland, ME

Participants will work with schools and nonprofits to understand the needs and services available to support the transitions of new Mainers, young and old.  Activities will include engaging first generation American students at a Portland middle school, working with a college aspirations program tailored towards English Language Learners, and visiting other related organizations such as Portland Adult Education.  Leaders: Nina Alvarado-Silverman '19 and Sara Caplan '20

Homelessness In Our Back Yard in Portland, ME

Participants will examine the complexities of life for those facing homelessness, and connect with agencies that work to address it.  The trip will consider impacts on the individual as well as families; the effects of policy on who becomes homeless and how people are helped; and examine women’s homelessness and safety in particular.  Leaders: Praise Hall '20 and Jhadha King '20

Healing the Wounds of War in Hanoi, Vietnam

Participants will witness the enduring ramifications of the Vietnam War, particularly its continuing public health impacts and reconciliation efforts. Participants will live and serve at a rehabilitation center that serves children and veterans affected by Agent Orange, a toxic herbicide that the U.S. deployed during the war.  Read the AWB Vietnam FAQ Leaders: Quyen Ha '18 and Bao Ma '18


Past Trips

Before this trip I thought of issues of poverty as if they could be drawn on graphs and shoved into political speeches, but now I think of them as a tangle of simple problems that all kinds of people face every day.
- Jessie Turner ’13, Guatemala

The Alternative Spring Break program has a successful and exciting history.  The first trip sponsored through the McKeen Center (formerly the Community Service Resource Center) traveled to Peru in 2002.  Since then, the program has grown exponentially.  In 2017, 88 Bowdoin students traveled to 8 destinations.  Through all this time, these trips have been designed and led exclusively by students.  See below links for descriptions of all the past trips and students' reflections of their experiences.

Read about past trips:






For more information about the ASB program contact Andrew Lardie, Associate Director at the McKeen Center.