Alternate Spring Break: A New Way to Travel During SB

For my past two spring breaks, rather than relaxing on the beach at exotic destinations, I’ve spent them with  Alternate Spring Break (ASB). Schools all across the country have ASB programs, but each ASB trip goes to a different location and participates in different service capacities. This year, I went on a Habitat for Humanity trip to High Point, North Carolina, and last year, I also went on a Habitat for Humanity trip, but the location was Lynchburg, Virginia.

Some tasks I’ve done at the Habitat sites include painting the interior of the houses and constructing sheds. My clothes often end up paint-covered, and my arms sore from hammering. But, beyond the service work, a very special quality of ASB trips is how close you get to your group. You apply to be a part of ASB, and you are assigned to an  ASB trip with 13 other people, most of whom you don’t know at all despite going to the same school. After just a week, you will have shared endless laughs, inside jokes, and meaningful conversations with these 13 people.

I think it’s easy to get comfortable in your own social circle at Penn, so it’s really cool how ASB allows you to branch out and get close to friends that you otherwise would never have met. On my ASB trips, I have had some of the most honest and genuine discussions about issues in life, social justice, and the Penn experience - and the wide diversity of perspectives and backgrounds within the group make it all the more interesting.

Though some people gawk at the idea of doing service work for Spring Break, ASB is truly a reinvigorating break from school and has always helped me gain more perspective about the important things in life. I have met the best people through ASB and highly recommend it to anybody interested!  


-Emma H. '17

Mural Arts Philadelphia: The Bigger Picture

Philly is known for plenty of things: cheesesteaks, the LOVE statue, the playground for Nicolas Cage in National Treasure. But not many people know that Philly is also known for being, quite literally, an outdoor museum.

In my last post, I talked about the courses that took you beyond the confines of the traditional classroom, which included FNAR 222, "Big Pictures: Mural Arts". More than a mere course about wall paintings, the class took us around the city and back in time, highlighting the socio-economic, cultural, and political impact on public art in a community.

Aimed at integrating service with research, teaching, and learning, the class focused on the work done by Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program (the director of the program, Jane Golden Heriza, co-teaches the course with muralist Shira Walinsky). Many, if not most, of my friends at Penn actually had never heard of the organization before I took the class (re: could never stop talking about it). This is surprising, however, as there have been over 3,600 murals painted in Philly since 1984. The program also employs over 300 artists annually, ex-convicts, art students, and interested community members—all of whom want to give back to the community.

Sit on a Market-Frankford train heading westward and you’ll see 50+ “love letters” to an unnamed woman scattered across the buildings. Look up while shopping on 15th and Chestnut to gaze at a 27-story painting of a Pakistani immigrant. Or walk ONE block off campus, to 40th and Chestnut to view one of the most vibrant compositions you’ve ever seen.

Once in a while, get your head out of the books and into the city. Take a walking tour to see these works, scan the accompanying QR codes to learn more about the work and its artist. As Jane Golden describes it, the city becomes a visual autobiography. What started as an anti-graffiti movement has since echoed its increasingly diverse population and rich history, transforming Philadelphia into one of the most colorful cities in the nation.

-Helen N. '18