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Leadership Perspectives

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I just wanted to go to South America. Pure, childlike, wide-eyed wonderment: That’s how I got roped into this.

As a sophomore, I was just emerging from the titanium shell I had been constructing since birth and was beginning to develop and discover my passions. I heard a rumor about a group called Alternative Break going on a service trip to South America, and I wanted in.

After showing up late to the info session in Doherty Hall on a rainy autumn afternoon (I fell asleep), I caught the end of a Q & A and learned that the group was going to work on a bio-marine reserve in Ecuador over spring break. Wow — would there be sloths, I wondered. Would we take pond scum samples?
Regardless, this sounded just up my alley — helping the world in a part of it I’d never seen.

When the meeting ended, I approached one of the leaders, trying to suppress my excitement. The only thing I could think to say was, “Uh, sorry I was late.” I don’t remember who I was talking to, but he smiled warmly and said, “Here’s the sign-in sheet! Did you get an application?”

I applied, was selected, squealed excitedly, hoped there would be sloths, and then told my mother I wouldn’t be home for spring break.

Today, after returning from Ecuador and leading a trip to Peru, I’m co-president of this organization — an organization that strives to provide students at Carnegie Mellon with the opportunity to serve the world community over break.

Since Alternative Break first appeared at Carnegie Mellon in 2005, students have spent their breaks scattered across the Western Hemisphere. This year, 15 students will be spending spring break at an orphanage in the Dominican Republic.

The service we do is by no means as simple as gathering a group of friends, booking plane tickets, and jetting away. The planning for these trips usually begins in August, though some have been planned as early as 11 months before. Even with all that time, we still manage to run into snags along the way.

As a leader of the organization, I’ve learned volumes about myself (good, bad, and neutral) since that rainy day. One thing I’ve gleaned from the experience is that evolution is essential — we’re still a fairly young organization, growing out of our shoes and trying to find the perfect fit. But isn’t a perfect fit what we’re all striving for in life?