Alternative Breaks


Wiens (left) petting a cheetah hosted by Cheetah Outreach.

Hiking Table Mountain.

In late June, two College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences students participated in a global service trip to Cape Town, South Africa, where they engaged in learning outside of the classroom and connected with the community through service projects. The trip, called Alternative Breaks, is hosted by Cal Poly’s Center for Service in Action, which allows students to participate in meaningful community service opportunities, cultivating social awareness and furthering their educational experience.

Cal Poly’s Center for Service in Action, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, offers local, national and global programs for students. The center provides a variety of services to the campus community — including volunteer matchmaking for students, faculty and staff, partnering with faculty for service learning and annual service trips.

In all, eight students and two staff members traveled to South Africa. Once there, the group partnered with students from Film School Africa to collaborate on service projects in the community. Cal Poly students worked for a family shelter where they painted people’s homes, assisted with installing flooring, and helped with gardening, among other tasks. When not working, they were led on excursions throughout the region, including visiting an ostrich farm, hiking and petting a cheetah at a sanctuary.

Alex Wiens, an environmental sciences and management master’s student, described it as the trip of a lifetime. “I got to see a completely different side to the country that I would not have seen had I traveled there as a tourist,” Wiens said. “We went to Robben Island and saw the cell that Nelson Mandela was imprisoned in. To learn about racial inequity was very powerful and moving.”

Students who participate in the Alternative Breaks trips also complete a global leadership certificate, which sets a framework for critical reflection. Bradley Kyker, who is the assistant director for the Center for Service and Action and was the host lead to South Africa, takes careful consideration when planning the trips to ensure everyone is mindful and compassionate towards the communities being served. “The Alternative Breaks trips help students diversify their education. Part of our training is about intercultural humility. We are exploring and learning about another area of the world. To come alongside them in solidarity to serve,” Kyker said.

Also on the trip was second-year forest and fire sciences major Jacob Zuniga, who said he was grateful for the connections he made along the way. “I want to thank the college for sponsoring this trip,” he said. “It was beautiful to be in community with people. We learned how to be global leaders in a way where we push back against the ideology of a savior complex. We were there to be with and serve the community how they needed.”

Alternative Breaks trips have taken Cal Poly students all over the world, including Peru, Vietnam, Cuba and Jamaica. Next year, the center will take students to Nepal, before returning to South Africa in 2025. For more information about participating, you can reach out to the Center for Service in Action at


Visit Cultivate Fall 2023 to read more stories.

Related Content