How Villanova Spent Spring Break

Laura Kirchner

Ah, spring break-a time when millions of college students put their academics on pause for a beach vacation to escape from the ordinary. Although this may sound like the typical spring break for many, one would be surprised at the great number of college students who would rather trade their week of beach time for seven days of service.

With service to the community as a main component of the all-around Augustinian education, it is no wonder Campus Ministry offers a plethora of alternative spring break options. During Spring Break 2009, like previous years, both Habitat and mission opportunities were available for students. Locations ranged anywhere from Clarksdale, Mississippi to Chulucanas, Peru. All habitat trips remained within the U.S. borders, while mission trips were primarily found in countries south of the border – Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, Honduras, Jamaica, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. Mission trips provide an opportunity to serve with an organization whose roots are in the community, while Habitat for Humanity focuses primarily on building and rehabilitating homes for those who would otherwise live in inadequate housing.

According to Nancy Lee, the coordinator of service break experiences here at Villanova, no particular service experience far outweighs any other. Villanova students are very flexible when it comes to the type of work they would like to do-from construction to cultural immersion, teaching and tutoring. Habitat for Humanity trips focused on construction, but some mission trips also included this aspect of service.

With the current economic situation, the cost of servcie trip was an issue for some students. To keep their break trip within their budget, many volunteers chose to stay within the United States. Campus Ministry also offered the Father Ray Jackson Memorial Grant, which provided students with financial support necessary to participate in a service experience. It is a need-based grant that students can apply for once during their time at Villanova.

When asked if anything for 2009 had changed compared to past years, Lee said that Campus Ministry had to make a few last-minute decisions regarding to the locations of scheduled service sites. Due to the continuing and escalating violence along the Mexico-United States border, Campus Ministry decided to move two of the service sites from Mexico to the United States. The students worked with similar service affiliates in the United States instead of Mexico.

Junior Beth Awalt spent her break in Guatemala. Awalt stated that during her trip, her group built five houses in three days and learned and served in Antigua.

“We really learned to appreciate the many blessings we have after seeing so much poverty – lack of housing, education, healthcare and food,” Awalt said. “My experience at God’s Child Project [the affiliated mission] really taught me how to embrace life and motivated me to make a difference in the world, in whatever way I can.”

Sophomore Christy Rosati spent her break in Clarksdale, Mississippi. This was her second break trip; in the fall of 2008, she ventured to El Paso, Texas with Habitat. Rosati enjoyed the trip because she got to interact with the community. The trip opened her eyes to situations she would have never imagined. During the trip, they went to several work sites, including a soup kitchen and three separate houses. Her favorite working activity was tiling because she got to use a blowtorch.

Students were also given social opportunities to interact with the students with whom they travel. Rosati enjoyed playing Catchphrase and being able to reflect on her experience while still in the country.

Unlike other breaks, this spring Campus Ministry co-sponsored service experiences with the College of Nursing, the College of Engineering and the Center for Multicultural Affairs.

Along with break trips sponsored by Campus Ministry, several classes within the Villanova catalogue offered students an opportunity to travel abroad during spring break.

Professor David Fiorenza led the fourth annual International Economics trip to Panama. Fourteen students in the Villanova School of Business traveled to Panama for the eight day trip. Provided with the unique opportunity to explore the business world of a foreign country, students toured the Panama Stock Exchange, visited the Caterpillar Company to learn how a U.S.-based firm starts a business in a foreign country and attended lectures on enivironmental economics and the Panamanian banking system. Students also toured a native village and the Panama Canal.

Within the School of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Karyn Hollis brought eight Villanova students to Peru in conjunction with the English Department’s Travel Writing class. Students traveled to Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu over the course of the eight-day trip, and took in the vast historical and cultural locations of the country. In the weeks leading up to the trip, Hollis put each student in contact with a Peruvian college student. In addition to visiting tourist sites, the students explored the daily lives of Peruvian college students with their pen pals.

“Being in a country like Peru really leaves a lasting effect on you, one that you don’t acknowledge until you are back in the real world,” junior Andrew Simola said. “Experiencing the life of a Peruvian, young or old, traditional or modern, really humbles you and provides you with a dash of long-lasting wisdom, which you can hold on to.”

Although spring break is frequently associated with exotic beach getaways, many Villanova students view their week off as an opportunity for personal growth and exploration. While a week in Cancun or Cabo may bring much needed rest and relaxation, the excursions Villanova students participated in created long-lasting memorieswhich they will carry with them long after their college days are finished.