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Alternative Break Programs

Alternative Break at American University


The Alternative Break Program is a student-focused initiative that organizes international and domestic immersive learning opportunities with a social justice perspective three times per year (winter, spring, and summer break). Alternative Break Programs are service-learning experiences designed to heighten participants’ awareness of critical social issues, enhance their individual growth, and prepare them for lifelong social action. Each program focuses on a particular social issue and immersion, action, and training in that issue begins long before the trip itself. Students educate themselves and each other, then do hands-on work with relevant organizations. Each student-initiated trip integrates service, reflection and education and focuses on topics as varied as poverty, indigenous rights, structural racism, human rights, fair trade, gender equality, and the environment.

Alternative Break Programs are not just trips to interesting places to connect with communities, but are long term immersive training programs that develop student leadership and activism. Each program includes 8 weeks of pre-departure training, discussion, and preparation. These experiences challenge students to think critically and compassionately—and to understand that there’s no such thing as “not my problem.” Upon return, participants are empowered to make more informed decisions and to take meaningful action that supports a greater good. All programs and students upon return work with their group to implement a service, advocacy, or activism project to share their learnings with our broader community. Through alternative breaks, we hope to foster the personal growth of contributing members of society. 

Alternative Breaks in the Covid-19 Era

In response to the current pandemic and pandemic-related uncertainties regarding travel in the months to come, all 2020-2021 Alternative Break Programs will be conducted virtually for the remainder of this academic year. AU Alternative Break Programs will re-emphasize that our work and mission is to engage students on critical social justice issues through our immersive student-led experiences. This mission continues at American University, despite the undertainites. The Alternative Break Program will continue to work with our colleagues across the university and follow all American University guidance and planning resources.

Want to hear more? Consider attending one of our upcoming online events to learn more about the virtual Alternative Break Experience.  


Application Deadlines

Spring 21 Application Deadline Extended!

Apply by January 29, 2021

Questions? Email for more info



Check out our offerings for upcoming Info Sessions, topical teach-in sessions, and other ways to connect!

Alternative Break Events

Spring 2020-2021 Programs

Sovereignty as a Verb

Examine legal institutions and conservation in the Navajo Nation. Explore the importance of sovereignty and self-determination among Indigenous communities across the United States. 

Program Details

Peacebuilding After Conflict


Explore the systemic factors and reconciliation efforts regarding the Bosnian Conflict and Genocide 1992-1996. Become life-long peacebuilders and active community members in their respective communities upon our return.

Program Details

Structural Food Inequality

Explore how food insecurity effects marginalized communities. Examine how and ability to access nutritious food in the United States is directly linked to privilege, wealth, and systemic racism.

Program Details

Genocide Recognition

Learn about genocide recognition and the roles that grassroots movements, international institutions, and states all play in the fight for justice against genocide.

Program Details

School-to-Prison Pipeline: A Public Health Crisis

Examine and understand how the social determinants of health and adverse childhood experiences (ACES) play a role in determining a child’s educational outcome, and how we can best support schools through advocacy and policy.

Program Details

Separate and Unequal: Health Inequities

Examine the various barriers that limit individuals and their community’s ability to be healthy. We will focus on health inequity and the path to health equity in Detroit, Michigan.

Program Details

Dialogue, LGBTQ Identity, and Collective Memory

This program will engage students in dialogue at the intersection of LGBTQ identity and collective memory in a post-conflict context. Students will return to Washington D.C as advocates of dialogue which fosters LGBTQ community and rights.

Program Details

Access to Education, Gender, & Race

Explore how Honduran communities work to empower their youth through education and programs promoting ecological and social awareness. Return to enrich DC communities to improve social inclusivity and empower youth.

Program Details

Summer 2020-2021 Programs

Justice, Transformative Change, & Social Movements


Consider your role in social movements by engaging with change-makers in South Africa

South Africa Info

Community Adaptation of Climate Change


Experience conservation efforts and how coastal communities are adapting to climate change in the 21st century. 

Costa Rica Info