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Spring Break Alternatives

By Tara Bzdok

Yes! It’s finally time to take a break from the daily grind of class and studies and let loose, get some zzz’s — or maybe this year, make a difference. Instead of drinking and sunning the week away, why not help the needy, experience a foreign culture or learn some new skills?

Helping a community in need in a foreign country or in your own back yard can be a memorable growing experience -- and believe it or not, in just one week, volunteers have made a difference. Volunteer trip fees are tax-deductible when working with an approved charitable organization. Examples of volunteer work range from teaching English to helping to construct hospitals.

So where do you start? Cross-Cultural Solutions offers volunteer trips for spring break to Brazil, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Peru and Russia. The one- or two-week trips usually consist of a group project in a needy community such as an orphanage, child care center, school or a home for the elderly.

According to Cross-Cultural Solutions, their group has found that “the volunteer experience is truly realized when you are given the opportunity to learn about local culture and customs, as well as understand community development. The CCS Experience offers a balance of volunteer work, cultural and learning activities and free time. This ensures that you are both learning about local culture and making a contribution within a relatively short period of time.” Volunteers participate in cultural and learning activities and have evenings and weekends free to travel or sight-see. All housing provided is safe, with running water and meals provided.

These trips are educational as well as helpful to the country visited.
I-to-I offers “the most unique spring break in the world,” including Guatemala's Lake Atitlan or zoo, Costa Rica, building homes for the underprivileged or sea turtle conservation and Ecuador's Galapagos Islands program.

Visit the Idealist's web site to find thousands of volunteer opportunities.

Or create your own volunteering plan. There are soup kitchens, homes for the elderly and conservation efforts right around the corner that need your help any time. The USA Freedom Corps is a network that connects those interested in volunteering to local and international opportunities to help as well as to things you can do right from your home.

Learn a New Language or Skill
Many travel companies offer packages that include language immersion along with learning another skill in a foreign country. This type of trip keeps you busy and involved in the community you are visiting.

For kids 9 and up:
Edukick is a soccer camp abroad that takes a whole team for spring break on a trip to expand their cultural awareness. Students may take optional language lessons in countries such as Italy, Spain and Germany. They train with professional soccer trainers and play against teams residing in their host country.

For kids 18 to 35:
Amerispan offers “Spanish and Surfing” at Jaco Beach, Costa Rica. Participants get two hours of Spanish lessons per day as well as daily surfing lessons for beginners.

For Kids of All Ages:
The Learning Traveler offers a variety of language programs that include learning about culture, sports or volunteer work. Highlights are their culinary and arts programs including art history in Italy, Flamenco in Spain, wine appreciation in France, flower arranging in Japan, tango in Argentina and cooking in China.

Celebrate the Spring Equinox
Ostara, or the spring equinox, is a time for the celebration of the return of the maiden goddess, fertility, new beginnings and of the overall strength and poise of women.

Take a relaxing trip to Sedona, Arizona, to “reconnect” with your higher self through the Reconnections program, filled with hikes and meditation in this desertified rock-filled wonderland. You will be part of the Conclave program in a special celebration of the spring equinox designed to inspire and enlighten. Sightseeing at many locations including the Grand Canyon is included in the very reasonable price.

Visit Chitzen Itza, Mexico, home of El Castillo, the Mayan temple that is aligned with the sun for a shadow effect seen only once a year. Only on the day of the spring equinox, the sun rises and creates a series of shadow triangles that form a snake that travels up the side of the pyramid. A must-see!

The annual Tagata Fertility Festival (Hounen Matsuri) in Komaki, Japan, involves a parade filled with wooden phallic symbols that bring good luck to farmers and pregnant women. Tokyo hosts a girl’s festival (Hina Matsuri) annually at this time of year that gives parents a chance to pray for the health of their daughters and to release the pain of losing a female child.

Now get out there and enjoy your spring break! Clear your head and put some new experiences under your belt. Spend your time wisely and you may be generously rewarded physically, intellectually and spiritually.

© Tara Bzdok

NFO Fun for the Family Editor Tara Bzdok is a freelance writer, antique book dealer and single mother with a passion for natural living. She has a degree in English literature and will begin working on her master's degree in human nutrition in the fall of 2006.


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