Danielle McKeirnan, a fourth-year English student, explains how being Team Leader for the Vancouver Alternative Spring Break trip is helping her to see the bigger picture when approaching difficult situations.

Hello, my name is Danielle McKeirnan, and I’m a fourth-year English major and co-team leader of the Alternative Spring Break Vancouver trip.

My motivation for applying to the Alternative Spring Break (ASB) Program was the result of a previous experience as a member in the program. I went to Mobile, Alabama to build houses with Habitat for Humanity. This experience allowed me to broaden my perspective from my very narrow small town experiences. ASB creates an environment where students can connect their classroom learning with their out of classroom opportunities, and by connecting individual experiences from within the classroom to outside, the trip provides a space for diverse opinions and perspectives which creates a very engaging and open environment.

My amazing first-year trip to Mobile inspired me to become a Team Leader for the Vancouver trip this year. As for challenges this time around, it has been difficult explaining to people why working in the Downtown Eastside is so important. There are many preconceived notions about what that community looks like, and they are often unfairly criminalized for it. For me, it will be crucial to not internalize these opinions and allow them to become my sole opinion for the week. It will also be very important that our team doesn’t go into the week feeling pity for the community we are going to serve. We should recognize our privilege, but we should not let it create a “hero” complex, and act as if we are going in and “saving” these people. The way we speak about the Downtown Eastside can be problematic, and I am excited to dissect the language we use surrounding communities like it. I want to understand “why” we feel that way, “what” makes us think this way, and “how” can we change it. I believe this is something that is not easy, but very essential for enriching the ASB opportunity.

On December 3rd and 4th, 2012 we held the Alternative Spring Break Silent Auction. This was an excellent fundraiser, and we are very thankful to all those who came out to support the program! The Silent Auction was only successful because participants from the Belize, Guatemala, Mexico, and the Vancouver trip worked as a team and volunteered their time to this fundraiser. The most valuable experience I got from the fundraiser was not allowing myself to get overwhelmed with frustration whenever we had difficulties. This is a very key tool in the ASB program as well. Sometimes circumstances change, and while initial plans do not always work out, with a clear head, alternative arrangements can be made. If I had let myself get flustered and angry, I would not have been able to request help and the stress would have taken over me. This is why it is always better to not let yourself get carried away by the smaller things, not only in ASB but in general to see the larger picture.

For the ASB program we still have our third pre-departure coming up, which will help finalize the goals and potential outcomes for the different trips. While I am very excited to have a rough outline of what the Vancouver trip will look like for the participants, I am also very saddened by the near ending of planning the trip. Although the planning will end soon, it will be great to start the beginning of the actual week and the amazing experience that ASB provides during the actual elements of the week.

Submitted by Danielle McKeirnan, a fourth-year English student.

To learn more about Alternative Spring Break, visit carleton.ca/asb


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