Alternative Intercultural Service Break

Reflections on the Alternative Intercultural Service Break Trip to Black Mountain, NC

On March 7, 2020, international students packed their bags, hopped in a van, and began their journey of a week-long Alternative Intercultural Service Break in Black Mountain, NC. Little did they know, that week would be a final sense of normalcy as the COVID-19 pandemic began to arrive in the United States. As we reach the mark of one year in a global pandemic, the Office of International Services and student participants in the Alternative Intercultural Service Break (AISB) experience reflect on the transformative trip and the impact it had.

The AISB trip was first taken in the Spring of 2018. Using the model provided by Student Leadership and Engagement, the Office of International Services developed a program not only to provide a unique experience to both international and domestic students at NC State University but also to provide housing for international students who could not travel home during any breaks when residence halls were temporarily closed. While typical trips last 5 – 7 days, the AISB experience brings students together for nine days of service-learning projects, social experiences, and reflective activities.

The chosen location of Black Mountain, NC provided students the opportunity to explore rural North Carolina and understand the history and culture of Black Mountain. Led by three student leaders, participants completed over 500 service hours through partners such as the Steadfast House, Black Mountain Home for Children, Manna Food Bank, Keep McDowell Beautiful, and the Asheville Crisis Center. In addition to service, students also provided cultural presentations at a local Middle and Elementary school.

Student Reflections

“There were several amazing experiences during this trip: looking for the beaver along the river bank, cleaning the mountain like a treasure hunter, packing biscuits at a food bank with teammates, assembling a fence and installing it on the grass. Moreover, I got a family on this trip. Everyone is kind and responsible. We worked, played, cooked and stayed together for seven days, which is enough to show one’s nature.”

Zoey, AISB participant, Textile Engineering

“Participating in this AISB program re-enforced a lot of important truths about human beings for me. Mainly, that no matter your background: gender, ethnicity, class, sexuality, age, etc. there always will be people from all corners of the world ready and willing to help others in need; to sacrifice their time for the greater good. Our group varied in all demographic categories but shared the same passions and goals: to be of service, to be open to new experiences and perspectives, to do what is required of us.”

Shimee, AISB participant, International Studies

“During this severe situation with coronavirus breakout all around the world, Black Mountain was like a Utopia, there was no virus, no study pressure, just friends, service, music, scenery and spoon games. I loved this trip so much.”

Wenna, AISB participant, Textiles

The trip began to wind down just as the coronavirus outbreak had taken height in the United States. The announcement that NC State University would be extending spring break due to the outbreak caused concern and stress to our students on the trip. We were lucky to be able to spend time in community with one another to talk about the difficulty of the situation and be comforted by the feeling that none of us were alone. 

Throughout this past year, our trip participants have had a variety of experiences: some returned home to be with family, some have graduated, and many continue to deal with the challenges that come with virtual learning and a global pandemic. Nevertheless, our group chat stays vibrant as individuals check-in with one another, share accomplishments and hope for a future when we can connect in person once again. Despite the challenges, we will always remain a family, a Global Pack. 

Applications for upcoming Alternative Intercultural Service Breaks will become available in Fall 2021.