Selma, Alabama isn’t your typical spring break hot spot. But Kwang Jin isn’t your typical college student. Instead of relaxing on a beach with his friends for spring break, he chose the Alternative Break program at UB.
“I did a lot of volunteering in high school,” says Kwang Jin. “I helped in an orphanage with disabled children. When we moved to Chicago, I worked with first-generation minority students, helping them with math, science and English after school.” Kwang Jin was inspired in part by his father, a medical missionary who traveled around the world helping those in need. So when Kwang Jin came to UB, he looked for ways to continue volunteering.
UB’s Alternative Break program gives students like Kwang Jin the opportunity to perform community service during school breaks. The program, allows students to address societal issues such as poverty, homelessness, hunger, literacy, HIV/AIDS, education and the environment.
During his first break trip, Kwang went to historic Selma, where he learned about race relations in a city that played a key role in the civil rights movement
Kwang Jin had such a meaningful experience with his first Alternative Break that he signed up to do it again and again, including a trip to Cleveland to serve food to homeless women and children. “The more you interact with people, explains Kwang Jin, “The more you realize they’re people like you. There are too many things in the world that separate us. You don’t have to let something like different socioeconomic status separate you, too.” Kwang Jin also learned how to work closely with all types of other students. “I learned that despite our differences, our group members all had a common goal—to make an impact.”
Even for someone as well traveled as Kwang Jin (he lived in Korea, Australia, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong and China before moving to the US), Alternative Break trips are designed to broaden students’ perspectives, and make them more aware of the issues that society faces. “When you’re in school, thinking about math or engineering, your focus is so narrow. But when you go on these trips you’re helping other people. It’s really almost a life-changing experience.”
Today, Kwang Jin still wants to be a doctor, or perhaps go into research. But he wants to do it in a way that helps others. “If before my goal was to live American dream, now I realize I can do all that plus I can help poor people, and lend a helping hand,” he explains. “Even as a researcher, I can make a huge impact on poor communities.” Whether he helps develop methane-based electricity for areas that don’t have any, or uses genetic engineering to help communities grow more crops, Kwang Jin is committed to making the world a better place for all.