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Alternative spring break takes students to Belfast, Ireland

March 7, 2016

This year’s alternative spring break will take a group of 10 Penn State Berks students, along with two staff members, to Belfast, Ireland, where they will spend March 5 to 13 working on initiatives related to hunger and homelessness.

From 1968 to 1998, Northern Ireland was torn apart by a violent 30-year conflict referred to as “The Troubles.” During this time, the goal of the unionist and Protestant majority was to remain part of the United Kingdom, and the goal of the nationalist and Republican, almost exclusively Catholic, minority was to become part of the Republic of Ireland. At its heart lay two mutually exclusive visions of national identity and national belonging. Although the conflict was resolved nearly 20 years ago, its effects are still evident in Northern Ireland today.

Penn State Berks students will work with YouthWorks, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to create a safe environment for youth to take on responsibility and make decisions on their own life based on factual information and solid support. Through YouthWorks’ Crossing the Bridges program, students will learn about the history of this conflict and how quickly a conflict can become tumultuous. They will take tours of the murals that decorate the 30-foot-high walls that now separate Catholic neighborhoods from Protestant. In addition, they will conduct in-person interviews. These experiences will help them to gain a better understanding of the issues in Northern Ireland.

YouthWorks follows a philosophy of reciprocal education. While in Northern Ireland, Penn State Berks students are expected to teach YouthWorks members about American culture, and they are required to create and execute programs and activities that embody various aspects of the American culture. The goal is for Penn State Berks students, as well as members of YouthWorks, to develop a deeper cultural understanding and a desire to promote peace and kindness in their own lives.

Specifically, Penn State Berks students will have the opportunity to work on hunger and homelessness initiatives that YouthWorks members in the Crossing the Bridges program have started. They will be working with the homeless population during the evenings.

Student volunteers include seniors Bianca Aviles, from Atglen; Crystal Diem, Morgantown; and Katarina Zambanini, Barto; junior Juliette Piersody, Wernersville; sophomores Natalie Grubb, Lancaster; Brianna Hasselman-Colon, Reading; Kathryn Jordan, Toms River, New Jersey; Chelsea Watts, Geigertown; and first-year students Laura Escobar, Yardley; and Julienne Munson, Bechtelsville.

The students are enrolled in the hybrid course Alternative Spring Break–Ireland to prepare for the trip to Northern Ireland. This course covers the issue of “The Troubles,” as well as concepts involving global citizenship and service philosophies.

During their time in Ireland, the students will also be participating in a “Global Conversation” with Penn State Berks students currently studying abroad in Africa. The purpose is to create a broader understanding surrounding topics such as culture and conflict and reconciliation. Conversations will take place via Skype and using social media.

The alternative spring break trip was organized by Brittney Schlecter, student activities and volunteer coordinator at Penn State Berks, who will join the student group, along with Betsy Scarpaci, assistant director of student affairs/residence life. 

This alternative spring break experience is funded in part through The Howard O. and Jean Beaver Endowment For Community Service.

For up-to-the-minute information the week of the trip, visitwww.sites.psu.edu/berksinireland.

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