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What I Learned During Alternative Spring Break Trip
Ria | April 24, 2019

There are probably a million and one ways to spend spring break, but the trip that I went on a few weeks ago during that time is arguably the best.

Through a program at Penn called Alliance for Understanding which is now in its 20th year, I was able to travel with a group of Penn students to Atlanta, Birmingham, Montgomery, and Selma to learn more about the civil rights movement and links between our history and our present. Every day we would go to museums, religious institutes, cultural centers, or meet with people directly involved in current civil rights efforts. The trip is run by the African American Resources Center, Penn Hillel, and the Greenfield Intercultural Center. It was more than just a few days over break— for all of second semester leading up to the trip we had a lecture series every Sunday where we spoke to figures with a Penn association about the civil rights movement, our history, race, and overcoming differences.

I learned more information on that trip than I knew my brain could handle and was transforming because of it for every second of the journey. Listed below are just a few of the lessons I picked up:


  • Meditate and read

As a child, I was a typical bookworm but neglected reading in favor of other activities as I got older. I also meditate occasionally but am far from as regular a practice as I would like.

While studying influential civil rights figures I noticed that they were all incredibly well read and had a meditative routine in their life, usually prayer. If I want to emulate some of these leaders, a good place to start would be picking up their good habits!


  • Always, always, always be open to meeting new people and befriending them

I went on this trip without knowing anyone on it and left with 22 new, lifelong friends. The people at Penn are some of the most interesting on this planet—  get to know them!


  • Leave room for spontaneity and natural growth

If I had everything in my life planned out, I wouldn’t have gone on this trip because I would have probably booked tickets to go home or visit family. By keeping things open I was able to participate in this life-changing experience.


  • Maybe I want to go to law school?

I was involved in a lot of debate-style activities in high school and have always toyed with the idea of going to law school. After seeing how so many civil rights figures were lawyers and could use their education to advocate for justice so directly, I’m even keener on exploring this career path.


  • Listen

The group had the opportunity to meet with so many wonderful people on the trip and it would have been a shame to not soak in the wisdom in their experiences.


  • There isn’t one career path for everybody

The people we met had a wide range of careers and it was so refreshing to see, especially when the same four career paths are emphasized so heavily on campus. Do what you love!


  • Learning and writing history aren’t what you thought they could be

History has always been one of my favorite subjects but I took my last history class in sophomore year of high school. This trip showed me that history is so much more nuanced and dynamic than I viewed—  so often, what is omitted from the textbooks says more than what is kept in, the person writing the history is so important, and narratives of our past are often constructed with very clear intentions in mind.


  • Speak up!

I know I said to listen a few paragraphs ago, but when you have something important to say, share it! Our contributions are valuable and so is hearing others’ perspectives on our thoughts


  • Ask questions, repeatedly

Some of the most hard-to-find information I learned came from asking the people around me at these various sites. If I didn’t raise the question, the knowledge would have never come.


  • Make your interests known

I found out about this trip from a friend who forwarded me the email, saying she thought it would be up my alley. She was right! By having people know of your interests, you’re more likely to come across opportunities that suit you well.

About the author

Hi everyone! My name is Ria, and I’m a student in Wharton who is still exploring what all the different concentrations have to offer. I grew up all over but lived in Dubai, U.A.E. before moving to Philadelphia, a city that I absolutely love to explore on the weekends. On-campus, I am involved in Wharton Council, Passion Projects, and work-study at the Development & Alumni Relations department. In my free time, you can catch me reading, doing yoga, and going on walks by the Schuylkill River.

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