Spring break! in…Tuscaloosa?

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Spring Break is holds a particularly well known if not infamous reputation for partying on crowded beaches, drowning in a sea of people and loud “doof-doof” music and otherwise trying to avoiding drowning in the actual sea itself. It’s a pretty amazing thing when you consider that in Australia, we too have a weeklong break in the middle of semester but cocktails and drinks on poolside bars are replaced by days recovering sleep or stockpiling on red bull for assignments. In any case, while many would have no doubt enjoyed their time in the sunny and sandy shores of the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Florida or otherwise, a group of some forty or so people decided to undertake a strange and baffling trip to the middle of Alabama to help build houses for the poor and disadvantaged who lost theirs in the tornado that tore through Tuscaloosa.

I will admit that I did not expect much and heck, I joined the Alternateive Spring Break program as a spur of the moment kind of thing. Sipping cocktails with mini-umbrellas on the beach were replaced by many bottles of Gatorade to combat working in the Southern heat, being warned of falling coconuts on the beach was replaced by being warned of falling sheets of roof metal on the work site and exotic dinners were replaced by a daily lunch of peanut butter and jelly. But the funny thing is that as much as it sounds counter-intuitive to a degree that someone would choose to spend their Spring Break in such a way, looking back I really have no doubt that it has been one of the great experiences of my exchange so far – and the defining feature of what made that week so great was meeting a great group of people be they from GWU itself or indeed the great characters and people of Alabama and the South in general. It is quite easy and indeed, perhaps intrinsically natural to simply get to know and travel with other exchange students but to a certain extent, this means that other GWU students and indeed the community of people that surround us as a whole become somewhat of an exotic species. Jumping head first into the alternativee spring break, living, working and talking alongside a group of forty new people that you never knew before but by week’s end you have developed a great bond with was just a great way to really engage with a whole new group of people and you would indeed be amazed at the sort of laughs and friendships which develop over many hours of caulking and nailing sideboard.

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