Alternative Breaks


The Volunteer Center’s Alternative Breaks (AB) program cultivates a unique opportunity for students and staff/faculty advisors to engage in service learning and volunteerism in communities outside of the Los Angeles area. These service learning trips help participants make tangible connections between what they learn in the classroom and what they will encounter once they have jobs and experiences outside the university. In addition, these trips allow USC  to create valuable, long-lasting relationships in the communities in which we work.

The Volunteer Center has offered USC students the opportunity to explore numerous issues across the U.S. since 1992, when we began to take students to the Navajo Nation in Utah. Since then, we have built long-lasting partnerships with governmental, non-profit and community organizations throughout the country. The opportunity to travel while engaging in community service continues to be an important element of the unique USC experience. Every year, the locations of the trips changes based on student interest, community need, and our budget.

Alternative Break Trips for the ResEd Experience

The Volunteer Center and Residential Education are partnering to offer the Alternative Breaks as part of the ResEd Experience to the residents of several of its residential colleges. We piloted this partnership in 2017-2018 with AWB Hurricane Relief and ASB Utah, and we hope to offer more opportunities every year.

USC Village residents may apply to the ResEd Experience trip belonging to their respective ResEd college and/or to the AB trips open to everyone. ResEd trips are free for resident of that college, but – once you accept – there is a cancellation fee if you drop from the trip. There are no Volunteer Center/ResEd trips for Fall 2020 or Spring 2021 but please stay tuned for more info about Spring 2022!

You can read about our most recent trips below.


USC has suspended study abroad and travel programs, and as a result the Volunteer Center will not host Alternative Break programs in Spring 2021 or Fall 2021. Suspending our programs until it is safer to travel domestically and internationally eliminates the potential challenges that would arise as a result of last-minute program cancellations, unexpected travel restrictions, housing constraints, exposure to other strains of the virus and more. We may be able to resume in the spring but we await authorization from the university. Please sign up for our newsletter  for updates about Alternative Breaks for Spring 2022!

Learn about our trips based on their service focus: Learn about our trips based on their location:
Animal Rights
Cultural Erosion in Native Populations
Disaster Relief Efforts
Environmental Conservation
Homeless and Poverty
Justice System Reform and At-Risk-Youth
Rural Development & Education
Youth & Education



Condado, San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Sgt. Jose Ahiram Diaz-Ramos/PRNG-PAO)

Trip Title: “AWB Puerto Rico: Recovering from the Storms”
To Apply Click Here: CLOSED
Deadline: September 26, 2019 @ 11:59 pm
Trip Dates: December 18 – December 29, 2019
Trip Size: a team of 10
We will not ask Professors to excuse any students from their classes, exams, or assignments. We recommend that you make sure that your Fall classes do not have any such commitments on Wednesday, December 18th in the evening.

September 20, 2017: a day that forever altered and scarred the beautiful island of Puerto Rico. On this day, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, bombarding the territory with heavy rain, flash floods, landslides, and winds that blew up to 155 mph. It killed an estimated 3,000 people, with many of them being homeless and/or elderly. The hurricane had left thousands without food, water, and electricity. Today, along with Puerto Rico’s struggling political climate, many people are still negatively impacted by the effects of the hurricane.

Although it has been almost two years since Hurricane Maria, one of the most devastating natural disasters ever to hit Puerto Rico, the territory is still greatly affected and desperately in need of help. This winter break, we are partnering with All Hands Volunteers in Yabacoa, ground zero for Hurricane Maria, to rebuild, repair, and reseal the roofs and homes of those affected. Additionally, volunteers will be removing mold from schools and homes as well as learning basic demolition and construction skills. During last year’s trip, volunteers were also able to talk with local homeowners about their personal experiences, learning about the struggles and challenges of being a Puerto Rican in the United States.

Furthermore, volunteers will be given the opportunity to explore both Puerto Rico’s unique culture and the lives of its wonderful inhabitants. During last year’s trip, when volunteers weren’t working at the base, they participated in numerous activities including visiting El Yunque, spending a night at a Boys and Girls Club, rebuilding a community disaster relief center, discussing political and social issues with local Puerto Rican college students, and exploring the islands fantastic beaches. At the end of the trip, volunteers will even have the opportunity to explore San Juan and learn more about the island’s unique history.

People from all cultural backgrounds are encouraged to apply. Spanish fluency is a plus but not required. If you have any more questions about AWB Puerto Rico please email

Vamos a Puerto Rico: el lugar mas maravillioso del mundo con la gente mas unica y amorosa. ¡Esperamos hablar contigo pronto!

Estimated Cost: Approximately $1000*

*The approximate cost for Puerto Rico includes only a one-way flight since this trip is in the middle of winter break. Students will book their flights home for the holidays separately. Staff will assist students in coordinating their return flights.

Past Info Sessions for Puerto Rico:
Thursday 9/5         @7:00pm-9:00pm Click to RSVP  in SKS 410 (unless trip leader states otherwise)  
Wednesday 9/11    @5:00pm Click to RSVP  in SKS 410 (unless trip leader states otherwise)  
Friday 9/13           @12:00pm Click to RSVP  in SKS 410 (unless trip leader states otherwise)  



Trip Title: “Alternative Winter Break: Exploring Obstacles to Education in India”
To Apply Click Here: CLOSED
Deadline: October 7, 2019 @ 11:59 pm
Trip Dates: December 18, 2019 (5:30 pm departure) – January 8, 2020 (11:30am arrival at LAX)

Interested in exploring a country and its community by immersing yourself in the culture? If so, AWB India may be for you!

According to a 2011 census, roughly one in six Indian city residents live in an area of high poverty or in a dwelling with unsanitary conditions — roughly 64 million people. For people living in poverty, access to formal education is limited.

On this three week trip to the northern state of Rajasthan, USC students have the opportunity to explore educational barrier within the Sikar community. Students will try to learn and understand the barriers to economic and educational development in India by assisting a small community in creating sustainable solutions. Students will primarily instruct within either an established primary school in Sikar or an informal school within the Banjara Basti with the goal of inspiring a passion for learning.

By leveraging the strengths of each participant, we will create a basic, sustainable curriculum that can be used by future instructors and volunteers at AVI. Following AVI’s mission, we strive to help the community help itself so they can continue to grow and empower themselves long after our group’s three-week stay. Past projects include teaching children basic English and math, creating an inspirational mural for the classroom, installing water filters in the school and the local community, raising awareness about basic hygiene practices, and collecting clothing and educational donations to give to local children.

On weekends, participants will spend time traveling to Pushkar by camel, shopping in Jaipur and Sikar, and visiting the Taj Mahal (you cannot go to India without seeing it!). In addition to working with children and weekend travel, participants will be immersed directly in Indian culture. AWB India participants will have the opportunity to participate in Hindi classes, traditional Indian cooking and dressing workshops, henna painting, and yoga & meditation classes. Participants will also live with a local family on their village farm in order to learn more about the economic and cultural practices of the region.

If you have any more questions about AWB India please email Read about AWB India in a participant’s blog!

Estimated Cost: $2,750 USD* per participant



Trip Title: “Constructing Education: Infrastructural Development of Rural Schools”
To Apply Click Here: Apply here
Deadline: October 11, 2019 @ 11:59 pm 
Trip Dates: March 13 or 14, 2019 – March 21, 2019 (Flight may depart from LAX on Friday at night)
We will not ask Professors to excuse any students from their classes, exams, or assignments. We recommend that you make sure that your Spring classes do not have any such commitments on Friday, March 13th in the evening. 

Guatemala is an exotic and visually inspiring country with huge volcanoes reaching up to 12,000 feet over crystalline lakes and picturesque towns. Once part of the Mayan Empire, Guatemala is a culturally rich and diverse country that is home to over 20 indigenous languages and a population that is comprised of somewhere around 50% Indigenous people who still maintain their style of dress, traditions, language, and culture.


However, in spite of its rich environmental resources, Guatemala remains one of the poorest countries in the world in terms of GDP. Many Guatemalans travel far and wide to work for large landowning corporations and make only enough money to put food on the table. Over 50% of Guatemalan children suffer from malnutrition and Guatemala’s educational system is currently ranked second among the worst Central American and Caribbean countries. Many children drop out after their first year of school, and there is another mass exodus during the middle school years. Many children lack adequate resources and encouragement on their studies, and families can choose to pull their children out of school to work.

Participants of ASB Guatemala will travel to Retalhuleu, a city in southwestern Guatemala, and partner with a local construction company to upgrade or build necessary structures for the schools in the community. Students will get to spend time with the children in the mornings working on various activities with them and in the afternoon students will transition to assisting with the construction project. If you have more questions about ASB Guatemala send an email to

Approximate Cost: $1,500 USD* per participant

Itinerary: ASB Guatemala_Itinerary Draft  from last year!



Source: Lebanon Valley College

Trip Theme: “Homelessness”
To Apply Click Here: CLOSED
Deadline: October 11, 2019 @ 11:59 pm 
Trip Dates: Approximately March 14, 2019 – March 21, 2019


When we think of Chicago we picture amazing architecture that lights the skyline at night, shopping galore on Magnificent Mile, the beauty of Lake Michigan nestled next to the city, “The Bean,” pretty big sports teams, and of course deep-dish pizza.

But amid the beauty of this Midwest city lies a serious homelessness crisis, and much like many US cities Chicago and its partners are far from an ideal solution. With an estimated 80,000 people experiencing homelessness in Chicago at some point during the past year a problem is clear. In a time where almost 8 in 10 workers live paycheck to paycheck, organizations fighting to prevent and end homelessness are greatly needed and in great need of support from volunteers, and this is where we come in.

Throughout our week in Chicago, we will work with local organizations to assist those in need, hear their stories while sharing our own, and gain an understanding of the complexity of homelessness and its causes. When not serving we will engage in the rich culture and history of Chicago by visiting historical sites, consuming delicious cuisine, exploring some of the many amazing art museums, and bonding with one another as we discover the city together.

Interested in spending your Spring Break learning about the complexity of the homelessness crisis in Chicago and how it compares and contrasts to that of LA? If so, we would love to have you join us for Alternative Spring Break Chicago! If you have more questions please attend an info session or contact

Approximate Cost: $950 USD






Trip Title: “Conservation Nation – Exploring Sustainable Environmental Practices in Washington ”
To Apply Click Here: CLOSED
Deadline: October 11, 2019 @ 11:59 pm  
Trip Dates: Approximately March 14, 2019 – March 22, 2019

“A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.” -Franklin D. Roosevelt

ASB Orcas Island focuses on exploring sustainable practices to create a better understanding of how to best preserve our environment. We will be traveling to Orcas Island in Washington, a few hours north of Seattle and close to the Canadian border. Orcas is the largest of the San Juan Islands with over five thousand acres of land and is known for its distinctive natural beauty.

Our service trip provides the opportunity to work with park rangers on environmental projects within Moran State Park. Past projects have included trail and campsite restoration and construction along the scenic Mt. Constitution trail and lakeside campgrounds. ASB Orcas Island is also an exciting opportunity for students who love the outdoors, as we will explore and experience the beautiful trails, lakes, waterfalls, and activities that the island has to offer. Furthermore, by engaging with the local community, we will develop a deeper understanding of how the island’s inhabitants work to preserve the natural beauty of their surroundings. Participants have said that working and living on the island “put the world in perspective,” as it allowed them to immerse themselves in a completely different lifestyle and atmosphere.

Along with volunteering on Orcas Island, the trip will spend one day in Seattle exploring the city. This will allow students to both have a hands-on and holistic experience with sustainable practices in the state park and also consider their applications to urban life. If you have more questions about the trip, feel free to reach out to us at

Find out what the ASB Orcas experience is like! Check out this blog or this blog from past ASB Orcas Island participants!  Read about ASB Orcas Island in the local newspaper

Approximate Cost: $800 USD* per participant


Trip Title: “What it Means to be an Immigrant: Process, Politics & Policy”
To Apply Click Here: CLOSED
Deadline: October 11, 2019 @ 11:59 pm 
Trip Dates: Approximately March 15, 2019 – March 22, 2019

Immigration is arguably the most prominent issue in America today. Many continue to weigh the economic, security and humanitarian concerns while others have endorsed anti-immigrant viewpoints with their insightful rhetoric. To help inform discussions around immigration, this trip challenges the underlying assumptions of the immigrant community through service work.

Participants will analyze the history of immigration policy and politics by looking deeper into global conflicts that drive individuals to the States. They will engage with leaders from government agencies, law enforcement, and activist organizations in an attempt to understand the many aspects and struggles of the immigrant experience.

The nation will soon be on the threshold of major new reforms that would address longstanding problems of both legal and illegal immigration – will you be a part of it?

If you have more questions about ASB Texas please email

*This trip was proposed this year and will run for the first time Spring 2020.

Estimated Cost: Approximately $900 USD* per participant



Trip Title:  “Cale & Irani: Community Impact at Refugio Rafael in Cochabamba, Bolivia”
To Apply Click Here: Alternative Spring Break Application
  October 29 (or until we receive the first 40 applications, whichever comes first)
Trip Dates:  March 9, 2019 – March 17, 2019
Capacity:  12 students and 2 advisors

This trip is for Cale & Irani residents only.  “Community Impact at Refugio Rafael” focuses on the impact that can be made by a vibrant and sustainable local community center project.  Refugio Rafael, our host center for this trip, is a housing/community project for single parents who have faced severe emergencies that have led to challenges in being able to house, feed, educate, and care for their families.  Presently, the center is predominantly accessed by single mothers and their children.  Refugio Rafael supports these single mothers in their effort to become independent and to help bring their children into the education system (most come from outlying country areas and the children are far behind in school).  Refugio Rafael supports various strategies for integration into the community via educational support, economic development, medical support, and more.

While on this trip participants will volunteer at the after school program which will include helping with homework, art projects, and playing sports. There will also be time spent working with the families at the center with gardening projects, bread making, house repairs, and handcrafting.  There will also be time spent exploring Bolivia and gaining a better understanding of its rich culture by way of visits to schools, markets, and the nearby city of Cochabamba.  The trip will also include a special visit to Toro Toro, which is known as one of Bolivia’s most magical national parks.

Trip Leader(s): 

Gustavo Orellana is the Residential College Coordinator for the Cale & Irani Residential Colleges. He was born and raised in Northern California. Gustavo received a B.A. in Chicano/a Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara and graduated with a Masters in Postsecondary Administration and Student Affairs from the Rossier School of Education here at USC. He was a graduate assistant in Residential Education for two years before joining the department full time in 2018. Through the previous professional experiences as an Assistant Resident Director at UCSB and a Resident Director at the Academy of Art University, Gustavo developed a passion in working with high caliber, passionate and dedicated students and cherishes the new challenges that each day brings in working with college-aged students. Some of his passions outside of work include exploring different parts of Los Angeles (especially through food), sporting events, and all things Bay Area!


Debra Allen is the Assistant Director for the USC Village. Debra received her M.A. in Higher Education and Student Affairs from The Ohio State University and her B.A. in Anthropology and Modern Languages at Beloit College. Debra has lived abroad as well as studied abroad in Portugal. Her student affairs experience spans residence life, international education, student union programming, leadership development, honors and scholars programs, service-learning, and social justice work. Debra’s international education experience focused on setting up and leading numerous short-term study abroad programs for undergraduate students. She spent several years working at The Ohio State University and most recently comes to us from Cal State Northridge where she worked as a Senior Community Director for six years. Her emphasis at Cal State Northridge was with the First-Year Experience Living Learning Community as well as management of the Community Center that served residential students. Debra has also been an active member of the Western Association of College and University Housing Officers since 2010. In her spare time, Debra likes to go on hikes and bike rides with her pup “Pete”, attend live music venues, go to the beach, and explore her hometown of Los Angeles.

Approximate Cost:  Free – Note: this trip is reserved for Cale & Irani College Residents (Cancellation Fee applies if you drop from the trip after confirming your acceptance)


Costa Rica

Trip Title: “Nemirovsky and Bohnett: Assisting Communities With Local Sustainability Projects”
To Apply Click Here: Alternative Spring Break Application
Deadline: October 15, 2018 (or until we receive the first 40 applications, whichever comes first)
Trip Dates
: December 13, 2018-December 20,2018
Capacity: 10 students and 2 advisors

Journey to the expanses of deep rainforest and jungle, towering volcanoes, and stretches of beaches that embody la costa rica. Renown for its incredible biodiversity, Costa Rica’s jungles hold a remarkable 500,000 species including a wide variety of birds, monkeys, frogs, sloths, big cats, and reptile species including the world’s fastest running lizard, the spiny-tailed iguana. Travel to this part of the Central American isthmus and experience its natural beauty and diverse wildlife.

ASB Costa Rica participants will stay with host families in the town of Pejibaye, meet the local community and explore the food and culture. Students will be rotating between community services with local sustainability projects within the community of Pejibaye. In the afternoon, we will spend time with local town people, performing cultural activities, and sharing typical dishes.

Participants will also explore the cultural remains from the oldest known settlements in the Turrialba Valley, once home to the original hunter-gathers of Costa Rica. This will include a visit to a farm that has many sustainable practices. Then, we will drive to the entrance of the Pacuare River, mentioned by National Geographic as one of the top five rafting destinations in the world. Experience whitewater rafting on the rapids and then sleep in the Ecolodge surrounded by rainforests, with the sights and sounds of wildlife echoing in the canyons around us. There will also be several scenic hikes (approx 3 miles) through the rainforest and a tour of an indigenous family farm.

Live la pura vida, the pure life, and volunteer with us as we learn to preserve the culture and natural environment of Costa Rica.

Trip Leader(s):
Tyler Benateigha is the Residential College Coordinator for Nemirovsky & Bohnett Residential Colleges.  Tyler grew up in Longmont, Colorado and studied History at Colorado State University before earning his master’s in Higher Education and Student Affairs at the University of Connecticut.  Tyler has a passion for working in Residential Education and helping create communities where residents feel they belong and can be successful.  In his free time, Tyler enjoys spending time with his partner and his dog, both of whom live with him at USC!  Tyler’s favorite sport to play is volleyball but also digs football and ultimate frisbee.  He enjoys many TV series including Game of Thrones, House of Cards, Sense 8, Parks and Rec, and more!  His other passions include puns, pizza, guacamole (one of the few things he is good at making), secret handshakes, dancing,


Kevin Villalta is the Residential Community Coordinator for the Graduate and Family Housing West. Kevin has worked for several years within the residential education programs at UC Santa Barbara and Cal State Northridge. Kevin also has experience in the field of clinical social work having provided mental health therapy services for children, families, and adults from underserved communities in LA County. His passions within residential education include health promotion, first-generation student success, social justice education, and student leadership. In his spare time, Kevin enjoys attending live concerts, exploring art museums, traveling, bowling, and karaoke with friends and family.


Approximate Cost: Free – Note: this trip is reserved for Nemirovsky and Bohnett College Residents (Cancellation Fee applies if you drop from the trip after confirming your acceptance)




Trip Title: “McCarthy Honors: Making a Difference in the Lives of Rescued Animals in Utah”
To Apply Click Here: Alternative Spring Break Application
Deadline: October 15, 2018 (or until we receive the first 40 applications, whichever comes first)
Trip Dates: Approximately March 9, 2019-March 16, 2019
Capacity: 10 students, 1 graduate assistant, and 1 advisor

This trip is for McCarthy Honors College residents only. Around the World, countless animals wander the streets homeless looking for food and shelter. Some establishments, like community animal shelters, provide temporary housing and attempt to find these animals permanent homes. But due to their large numbers paired with shelters’ lack of space and low funds, many animals face euthanasia. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), approximately 2.7 million animals are euthanized each year in the US. That is approximately 7,397 adoptable cats and dogs that are euthanized every day- and that is just in the US! Organizations like the Best Friends Animal Society and other non-kill organizations provide safe homes for rescued and abandoned animals until they are adopted. 

Alternative Spring Break (ASB) Utah is a service-based trip that aims to address issues concerning animal rights. In partnership with the Best Friends Animal Society-Utah, the largest animal society in the nation which houses around 1,600 homeless animals, ASB Utah will have a chance to help the animals both directly and indirectly. Participants will do service projects like trail work, light landscaping, painting and cleaning dog and cat buildings as well as have a chance to work hands-on with the animals at the sanctuary. From walking dogs to brushing cats to giving pigs belly rubs, there are a variety of things to do for all animal lovers who want to make an impact! Best Friends’ Animal Sanctuary located in Kanab, Utah has 8 separate animal areas: Cat World, Bunny House, Parrot Garden, Dogtown, Piggy Paradise, Horse Haven, Rescued Village Rabbits, and Wild Friends designated to suit the needs of each and every animal. Each and every one of the animals at the sanctuary has his or her own unique personality and are waiting to find the perfect family to call their own. Apply to meet them all and to help make an impact on their lives! 

You will also have the chance to explore Kanab, Utah which is known for its beautiful scenery and outdoor adventures. Viewing the milky way at Bryce Canyon National Park and exploring the beauty of Zion Natural Park are just a few trips ASB Utah has in store! The trips costs include housing, meals, transportation, and cultural excursions. 

Watch this video from Best Friends Animal Society for more information:

Trip Leader:
Sally Behpoornia is the Residential College Coordinator for McCarthy Honors Residential College in the USC Village. She was born and raised in Southern California. Sally has a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara and a Master’s Degree in Postsecondary Administration and Student Affairs from the Rossier School of Education here at USC. She will be starting the Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership program at USC in Fall 2017. She was a graduate assistant in Residential Education for two years before joining the department full time in 2015. As a graduate student, Sally grew to love the Trojan Family and the amazing experience that comes with being a part of the Family. She is committed to providing an incredible residential experience to our students and wants to help students navigate a successful transition to college. Some of her passion areas outside of work include exploring different parts of Los Angeles, attending sporting events, watching movies, and spending time with family and friends.

Approximate Cost: Free – Note: this trip is reserved for McCarthy Honors College Residents (Cancellation Fee applies if you drop after drop deadline)



*Alternative Break costs may change slightly in the future. These preliminary estimates are presented for the purposes of helping students decide which trips fit within their budget. Fundraising and partial grant opportunities are available, for more details visit “Fundraising for AB Trips.”

Follow us on Facebook or subscribe to our Newsletter for updates. For general questions about the Alternative Spring Break Program, email us at For more information about specific trips, email them directly or RSVP for a trip info session!

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