Students assigned service trip locations

David Cassilo

In mid-January, 350 Villanova students received an e-mail telling them where they will spend their spring break.

No, this was not a confirmation e-mail from a cruise director or a Cancun hotel concierge, but instead an acceptance to join the Villanova service trip program and travel to one of 18 sites around the world.

It will be the first time that some students participate in the program, and while that brings excitement, it also brings an adjustment.

“It’s going to be strange to go a week, let alone over an hour without my BlackBerry,” said junior Stefan Shrivastava, who will be traveling to El Salvador. “However, I am also excited to meet new people, make new friends and have a truly different spring break experience.”

As a first-timer, Shrivastava was introduced to the service trip process that hundreds of students undergo four times a year — fall, winter, spring and summer breaks.

For this spring’s trip, applications were available at the end of the fall semester and are due to Campus Ministry by the second week of the spring semester.

In order to complete the application, a student must first decide whether he or she wants to embark on a habitat trip or a mission trip.

Habitat trips work in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity to build houses for families in need across the United States.

Students decide on their desired location based on willingness to drive or fly and pay for the ticket.

On the other hand, mission trips can be international, and students help with educational or environmental needs.

After students rank their preferred mission trips, the applications are reviewed for two days.

Students are chosen based on seniority, meaning that a senior has a much better chance than a freshman to be accepted and to get his or her desired trip.

Finally, students receive an e-mail notifying them of their acceptance and then must attend a meeting in order to learn their destination.

While just applying to the program is a detailed process alone, preparing to enter a different environment can be the most difficult aspect.

“It is a little overwhelming,” said junior Emily Bell, a student leader for the trip to El Salvador. “We are there for a week making a connection with these people, and then we have to leave.”

Because of this, student leaders like Bell make sure that everyone in their group is properly prepared.  After acceptance, each group member is asked to attend weekly meetings leading up to the trip that include learning current events about the group’s destination. The students also have the benefit of working with advisers who have gone on these same trips before with Villanova, both as students and student leaders.

“I, as a student here, was impressed with all of the service opportunities Villanova offered,” said Joanna Bowen, a Campus Ministry graduate intern for Stanford Hall and Fedigan Hall. “As soon as I went on my first experience, I got hooked and enjoyed the people I was working with.”

This year there is also an emphasis on continuing the experience after the service trip has ended.

Each group will attend “What Now?” sessions in the weeks following its trip to talk about ways to continue their efforts. These sessions are one of the many ways in which the service trip program grows at a rapid rate.

“[Service trips] are definitely more popular,” said junior Dan Love, who is a student leader on the trip to Marion, S.C. “I have also seen a good development in the whole program.”

Love, who has gone on five other service trips, recalls that during his freshman year there were fewer opportunities than there are this year.

The continuing expansion of the program allows more chances for Villanova students not only to help others, but to learn a lot about themselves.

“You will surprise yourself because you will be able to do these things,” Love said. “That’s the best part — doing something you’ve never done before.”