Instead of relaxing on a beach in Cancún or recon­necting with old friends on spring break, some North­eastern stu­dents spent their vaca­tions engaged in com­mu­nity ser­vice projects throughout the world.

More than 100 stu­dents vol­un­teering through the Center of Com­mu­nity Service’s Alter­na­tive Spring Break Pro­gram addressed crit­ical, social issues such as afford­able housing, dis­aster relief and youth edu­ca­tion in Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and state­side, learning as much about them­selves as they did of the cul­ture and his­tory of for­eign nations.

I learned the impor­tance of keeping a pos­i­tive atti­tude, and being grateful for every­thing that I have been blessed with,” said mid­dler health sci­ence major Melissa McCarthy, who vis­ited the Salomon Jorge School in Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic.

McCarthy helped teach fourth and fifth graders how to speak Eng­lish, a skill vital for a child’s future suc­cess in a country with one of the world’s worst edu­ca­tion sys­tems, according to Kristen Simonelli, the asso­ciate director and service-​​learning coor­di­nator for the Center of Com­mu­nity Service.

The chil­dren were so eager to learn and so happy and fun to be around,” McCarthy said. “I under­stand and appre­ciate my edu­ca­tion so much more now that I have been to the Dominican Republic.”

Simonelli accom­pa­nied stu­dents to Monte Cristi. They received a sobering expe­ri­ence, she said, when they vis­ited a mar­ket­place crowded with Haitians eager to load-​​up on food sup­plies that they hoped to last sev­eral months.

It was absolute insanity,” Simonelli said. “People were pushing and shoving each other and car­rying 50 pound bags of rice in wheel­bar­rows. They under­stand how it is not to have easy access to so much that we have access to in abundance.”

At God’s School in St. Eliz­a­beth, Jamaica, stu­dents, in part, helped build a bal­ance beam, paint a play­ground and teach ele­men­tary stu­dents the impor­tance of proper nutrition.

Freshman human ser­vices major Laura Gould’s expe­ri­ence in the country empha­sized the dichotomy between the day-​​to-​​day phi­los­ophy of those living in America and those living in Jamaica, she said. Each day after work, on a nearby beach, she observed the con­tented nature of Jamaican indi­vid­uals lis­tening to Rasta­farian music.

They were just enjoying their lives, lis­tening to music and really being con­tent and not wor­rying about any­thing else,” she said. “America has a set way of defining suc­cess,” she added, noting the expec­ta­tion of a col­lege degree and a “good job. Jamaicans are flex­ible and deal with things as they come.”

In addi­tion to working with chil­dren in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, North­eastern stu­dents teamed with Habitat for Humanity to serve as con­struc­tion vol­un­teers for painting and roofing projects in Arkansas and Vir­ginia; helped with the rebuilding and recovery efforts from Hur­ri­cane Kat­rina in New Orleans and Mis­sis­sippi; vol­un­teered at a camp for chil­dren with spe­cial needs and chronic ill­ness in Texas; part­nered with Animal Rescue New Orleans to help care for shel­tered ani­mals; and worked on trail main­te­nance and restora­tion in Ten­nessee and Arizona.

Our stu­dents want to be global cit­i­zens,” said Sara De Ritter, asso­ciate director of ser­vice and com­mu­nity part­ner­ships and Uni­ver­sity rep­re­sen­ta­tive on the Jamaica trip. “They want to be involved in the com­mu­nity. This expe­ri­ence offered an oppor­tu­nity to see the country; they weren’t in tourist areas, they were in real people’s houses, inter­acting with the locals, expe­ri­encing what dif­ferent cul­tures have to offer.”