Skip the partying and gain some perspective over break

This spring break, while their classmates are waking up hungover in Mexican hotel rooms at 3 p.m., many St. Thomas students will have already begun helping others.

Students going on the various VISION service learning trips are spending their breaks doing everything from working on impoverished Native American reservations in Montana and Minnesota to helping homeless children in New York City. Instead of making numerous bad decisions after nights of partying, these students have made a very good decision: to devote their days of time off to serving people in need.

St. Thomas students are also participating in “Pay it Forward” tours this spring break through the Students Today Leaders Forever group. Students on the tours visit six different cities and participate in service projects in each city.

One of my friends went on a VISION trip and said it was an unforgettable experience she wouldn’t trade for anything. She said the trip taught her how important it is to volunteer, even if it means giving up vacation time to do so.

Spring break can bring out the selfishness in college students. After almost two months of studying, class projects and extracurricular activities, everyone’s ready for a week of relaxation with no responsibilities.

But students who sign up for VISION trips or “Pay it Forward” tours pay hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets to spend their days helping others. They give up time with friends, time to catch up on schoolwork and sometimes even time with their families Easter morning, all to better the lives of strangers.

Spending spring break drinking on a beach starts to look shallow and meaningless in comparison.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to go somewhere warm and have a good time with friends, but going on a vacation shouldn’t be the default option for spring break. Students can look at spring break as one week of uninterrupted “me” time, or they can look at spring break as a time to do things they normally don’t have time for when school’s in session.

During the school week, students have class, internships, sports practices and social events. Planners are packed with to-do lists and reminders. Many students don’t have time to volunteer, or at least not as much time as they’d like.

So when you have a week of free time, make the most of it. You can still volunteer even if you aren’t going on a service learning trip.

If you’re in the Twin Cities over break, try volunteering at one of the many local charities. With Easter approaching, many places are looking for volunteers to help package and deliver Easter meals to the poor. Nursing homes would love to have college students come visit residents who might not get any other visitors for Easter. Get creative and think of how you can put your skills to use helping others.

Students will feel better about themselves if they’ve spent at least part of their break helping others instead of only spending quality time with their TV. The first half of spring semester may have been stressful, but a good way to put your own problems into perspective is to go out into the world and see firsthand some of the problems people in poverty experience on a daily basis.

Follow the example of the students on VISION trips and “Pay it Forward” tours and challenge yourself to spend a few hours of your spring break doing something meaningful. Then when you get back to campus, instead of swapping stories about how trashed you got every night or how many seasons of your favorite TV show you caught up on, you’ll be able to tell your friends how you actually made a difference in people’s lives.

Katie Broadwell can be reached at