Opinion: Waste your time or invest it — why I chose alternative spring break

by Kylee Hereid, reporter

If you type ‘Spring Break’ into a search engine and click to see images, you will be able to get a good idea of what the classic spring break looks like: crowds of college students with beers in their hands, bikini-clad women dancing against other people, men wearing dozens of Mardi Gras beads, friends relaxing on the beach or being buried in sand and underage partiers getting arrested.

It is a time many college students look forward to after suffering Iowa’s winter. Everyone is usually eager to pack their bags and either go home to relax or travel somewhere warm where they can experience the classic spring break.

Most people who travel will find major cities where large amounts of alcohol will be consumed and more than a few poor decisions will be made. They will eventually return to campus with empty wallets and only foggy memories of what happened throughout the week.

I am not saying spring break is inherently bad. After surviving midterms, a traditional spring break was tempting. However, I am glad I chose to spend my break differently.

Instead of working on spending every day relaxing on a white, sandy beach working on my sunburn and creating memories, I decided to help build houses.

Every year, Simpson College’s Religious Life Community offers alternative spring breaks to students. Through this program, students can travel to different states and volunteer for a week with Habitat for Humanity.

Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit, international organization building safe, decent and affordable houses for people in need. The organization relies largely on donations and volunteerism to fulfill their goals.

I have participated twice in the program, the first time in South Palm Beach, Fla. and the second in Marianna, Fla.

I have never felt like I missed out on anything. Rather, I gained a lot more than I would have on a beach.

I have learned how to use a hammer, measure dry wall, follow safety precautions, put up walls, install windows, use power tools, paint ceilings and insulate a home. I also learned how quickly a bandage will fall off in 90 degree weather, to walk despite having had a nail enter my foot, to put tools away rather than setting them on the ground and to get up every morning knowing the pain will go away.

Most importantly, I learned what it feels like to hug the little girl who just got her own bedroom for the first time. I learned how it feels to have a single mother thank God for sending you to her aid. I learned I like how it feels to do something good with my time.

I have been lucky in my life. I may not have always had what I wanted, but I always had what I needed. There was always a roof over my head and clothing in my closet. Not everyone can say that, but I was able to help give that to someone who did not have it before.

I was able to experience one stereotypical spring break day when we were given a free day during the construction week. We traveled to Panama City Beach where I went shopping, walked along the beach and attended a Luke Bryan concert. After a fun but crazy day, I knew I made the right decision.

Until that day, I had never seen so many arrests take place, been catcalled to such an extent, been yelled at for no reason by a stranger wanting to fight or been asked by a random man to show him my chest. When I left, I knew I had enjoyed myself, but I also felt worse about myself. I did not feel as amazing as I did after building a house.

There are a lot of benefits that come from choosing alternative spring break. Aside from making you feel good (which is a big benefit by itself), you also expand your existing skill sets, build a network of people and gain a resume-boosting experience suggesting to future employers you are a hard-working team player who cares about your community.

To top it all off, instead of returning home broke with foggy memories, you get to return knowing you worked hard to give someone else a place to live. That eight-year-old girl will be able to laugh, cry and grow up in the bedroom I helped build. The nails I put into those walls will protect her and, someday, others.

When I was given the choice to waste my time partying or invest it doing service, I chose to invest it. I want to look back someday and see the change I caused in the world, not the beer cans I lined up against the wall.

Spring break doesn’t have to consist of foggy memories. Build something bigger with your time, and do it for someone else.