04/03/2014 04:08 pm ET Updated Jun 03, 2014

Alternative Breaks: An Experience That Lasts Past Spring Break's End

This spring break was certainly an adventure to say the least. Navigating through subway stations and crowded New York sidewalks. Getting lost in an unfamiliar city in an unfamiliar state in the pouring rain (which is pretty unfamiliar weather to me). Bundling up in layers of shirts and being sure to wear tights under my jeans when all my other spring break experiences have been associated with shorts, tank tops, and swimsuits. And most of all, volunteering at different homeless shelters throughout New York when I had never actually helped out at a soup kitchen before.

Before heading out to New York for the first time in my life, I was a little less than excited. I was stressed over what to pack. I was scared to fly for the first time in over ten years. I was just ever so slightly jealous of my friends that were going to do typical spring break things (read: tanning and going to Mexico) instead of going all the way across the country to volunteer.

But, all of a sudden, I found myself in the middle of Central Park and, on a packed subway to get to Times Square, and in a church in Queens to serve lunch to the less fortunate, and, in the middle of Chelsea in the pouring rain. In the middle of volunteering at a soup kitchen in lower Manhattan, I finally understood what it meant to really feel purposeful.

I thought this trip was going to be a week-long community service project that I would leave in New York. But, somewhere in the midst of waking up at 7 a.m. every morning and having real, meaningful conversations with homeless shelter guests, I became fully invested in this cause. I stopped making assumptions about people and how they ended up in certain situations and started fully believing in giving people the benefit of the doubt. I stopped believing that I was fundamentally different than the homeless; I've just been a little more fortunate. I stopped looking away when I saw homeless people on the subway or outside of restaurants. While it can be uncomfortable or difficult to witness those who are less fortunate, we can only help if we are aware.

So, while I am sure a lot of my friends had fun spending their spring breaks in California or Cabo, not a part of me regrets deciding to spend my week of break waking up at 7 a.m., having hour-long subway commutes, or volunteering for eight hours a day. In fact, I actually miss it a lot. But, my spring break experiences aren't solely in my past. Because this trip gave me awareness and dedication to a cause, which are things that will stay with me long after vacation time ends.