This past year, I participated in JMU’s Alternative Break Program as a trip leader. From September until March, I attended training each week that helped me prepare to be the best leader I could be. The training covered everything from academic concepts and readings, first aid, leadership skills, effective communication, and risk management. By going through the training process and the experience of leading a trip to Los Angeles, I learned a lot of myself, my community, homelessness, privilege, and our nation as a whole.
What was initially a random decision to apply to be a trip leader ended up being one of the most positive experiences I’ve had at JMU. Even if you’ve never been on an ASB trip, you can still apply to lead one… that’s what I did! I recommend applying to be a leader because the training gives you the education and the tools to be a great leader no matter where you go or what you do after your time at JMU comes to an end. Here are the top 4 reasons YOU should apply:
1. You’ll learn a lot about yourself.
By agreeing to embark on the journey of becoming a trip leader, you’re agreeing to undergo some personal growth. Through leadership consultations and assessments with the DUX Center I learned about my strengths and weakness as a leader and was given the resources to help me improve in those areas.
As a trip leader, you’ll be given a lot of responsibility. Planning a trip and preparing a budget of thousands of dollars is more responsibility than an average college student is given. I really enjoyed the opportunity to take on that level of involvement with the planning of the trip and learned a lot about myself and how I work best. I believe that growth happens when you push yourself outside of your comfort zone, so venture outside of what’s comfortable and try something new.
2. You’ll learn a lot. Period.
As a trip leader, you’ll have the opportunity to learn about social issues like homelessness, health, education, and many others in a classroom setting at leadership training each week. You’ll also get to learn outside of the classroom by volunteering throughout the year and on your trip.
Personally, I learned a lot about issues that I had no prior knowledge about, and the exposure to new ideas and concepts helped me to discover new passions and make informed decisions about how I vote, shop, and consume.
3. You will be inspired to be a more active citizen.
One of the reoccurring themes of AB training is the “Active Citizen Continuum”. The goal of Alternative Breaks is to help people move from just “members” or “volunteers” to conscientious or active citizens in a community. I think that its easy for young people to feel disassociated with politics or what’s happening in their community. I know that I was definitely not an active citizen in the Harrisonburg community before becoming a trip leader. Even now, I’m not sure if I’d call myself an active citizen of Harrisonburg, but through AB I’ve realized the importance of getting involved with the place that you live, voting in local elections, and considering community issues. Its easy to ignore problems that exist in your backyard, yet being a trip leader has opened my eyes to some of the specific social issues that are in play in the Shenandoah Valley and in Harrisonburg.
4. You’ll have your ideas, beliefs, and preconceived notions challenged.
Confirmation bias: “The human tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.”
As humans, we naturally surround ourselves with people and information that supports our way of thinking. The beautiful thing about the AB program is that people of different faiths, political beliefs, and backgrounds are thrown together and given the chance to participate in open discourse. As I said earlier in this post, growth happens outside of the comfort zone– by having my preconceptions challenged, I ended up doing more research about my opinions and even ended up changing a few of them. Being surrounded by 50 passionate JMU students allowed to delve more deeply into why I hold the opinions that I do and encouraged me to become more educated about all sides of social issues.
The 4 reasons listed above are just a FEW of the reasons I recommend applying to become an Alternative Break leader. Overall, its an amazing opportunity to expand your leadership skills, learn, and become aware. If you have any questions, please visit the CSL office on the 2nd floor of the Student Success Center.
Applications are due on April 8th and can be found here.